The killing of Inuit sled dogs on Baffin Island more than 50 years ago was likely not the result of a federal government plan to force Inuit out of their traditional way of life, according to an Inuit commission.
The report by the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, released on Wednesday, provides a first-hand perspective on the dog killings and other major social changes Baffin Island Inuit faced between 1950 and 1975.
Inuit have long claimed that RCMP officers based in the eastern Arctic systematically killed thousands of their sled dogs — known in Inuktitut as qimmiit — as part of a government plan to force Inuit to abandon their traditional camps and move into western-style permanent communities.
"Between 1957 and 1975, the number of qimmiit declined dramatically," the commission's report states in part.
"While some died from disease or were abandoned by their owners, hundreds were shot by the RCMP and other settlement authorities because qallunaat [non-Inuit] were afraid of loose dogs."
Laws not properly explained
It has been alleged that about 20,000 sled dogs were killed from the 1950s through the 1970s in what is now Nunavut, the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, and the Nunatsiavut region of Labrador.
The RCMP concluded in 2006 that no organized dog slaughter had taken place. Some dogs were lawfully destroyed because they were diseased, starving or dangerous, according to the police force's own report.
The Qikiqtani Truth Commission's report found that while RCMP officers were often following animal control laws when they shot sled dogs, those laws were often not properly explained to Inuit whose dogs were being killed.
"Many Inuit were not even told why their dogs were shot," according to the report.
The commission also found that "the killings went on far too long to be the result of a secret plan or conspiracy, and that the dog killings began … several years before the federal government adopted a formal central policy of dog control."
But those who lost their sled dogs lost their traditional hunting-based livelihoods, "becoming dependent on welfare and store-bought food," according to the report.
"While the law was clear to those who enforced it, to Inuit hunters it was illogical, unnecessary and harmful, as well as inconsistently and unpredictably applied," the report states.
Explored other issues
The Qikiqtani Truth Commission was set up in 2007 by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association — which represents Inuit in Nunavut's Baffin Island region — in response to the RCMP's report on the dog killings.
The commission also looked at other issues that arose during the 1950s, '60s and '70s, from Inuit children being sent to residential schools to tuberculosis patients being sent to sanatoriums outside the territory.
In producing its report, the commission toured communities around Baffin Island, gathering personal anecdotes from Inuit in 13 communities.
"We've spoken to about 200 personal witnesses on video," commission chairman Jim Igloliorte told reporters in Iqaluit.
"We've read another 150 or so earlier transcripts from [the] Qikiqtani Inuit Association."
Nunavut filmmaker Joelie Sanguya, who released the National Film Board documentary Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths earlier this year, said Inuit have long been seeking answers about the sled dog killings.
"When the true truth comes out — one truth from the RCMP and another truth from Inuit who had their dogs killed — that's what the whole [of] Baffin Island wanted," Sanguya told CBC News.
The Qikiqtani Truth Commission recommends a number of steps the federal government, the Nunavut government, the RCMP, Inuit groups and others can take to heal and move forward.
Among other recommendations, the report calls on the Qikqitani Inuit Association to present its report to the federal government and "request a formal acknowledgement of the report's findings."