Pond Inlet’s Lee Inuarak looks on towards Igloolik shortly after 3 p.m. on day one of the Nunavut Quest race. (Photo by David Venn)David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 05:52 Apr 19, 2022

By David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

And they’re off! The 15 mushers competing in Nunavut Quest are en route to Igloolik.

To loud applause and cheering from a crowd of about 150 people gathered on Uluksan Qingua, or Adams Sound, the dogsled teams left one minute apart from each other starting at 3 p.m. Monday. Each musher’s support team got a 30-minute head start.

Arctic Bay’s Apak Taqtu, a first-time competitor in Nunavut Quest — the annual 500-kilometre dogsled race — said it was a busy morning helping his wife get prepared to join him on the trip, and he was ready to get going.

“It’s pretty exciting, because I used to go as a driver,” he said, minutes before the race began.

Nine of Taqtu’s qimmiit, or sled dogs, came from fellow Arctic Bay musher Michael Qaunaq, and are less than one year old.

“[They’re] doing good,” he said. “They’re just starting to learn, all of them.”

He said he isn’t quite sure what his expectations are for him and his team because he will be training them along the way.

Defending champion Jonah Qaunaq also said he was excited to start the race. He left ninth, waving to the crowd behind him as his dogs pulled him toward the end of the sound. Qaunaq won the 2019 race, the last time it was held. Nunavut Quest was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the mushers left from the starting line without a hitch.

But a few of Arctic Bay musher Jeremy Koonoo’s dogs got tangled up at the start, and fellow musher Donovan Qaunaq’s team got turned around and headed back toward the crowd. It took him about five minutes to get his dogs back on track.

It will take the mushers seven days or less to complete the trek to Igloolik. The winner will receive $20,000, and the next six finishers will share $39,000 in prize money.

The federal government committed to giving the Qikiqtani Inuit Association $100,000 a year for the Nunavut Quest for the next six years after apologizing in 2019 to Qikiqtani Inuit for its colonial policies, one of which included the killing of sled dogs, which were part of Inuit traditional way of life.

The Government of Canada also committed $2.9 million to a qimmiit revitalization program.

This item reprinted with permission from Nunatsiaq News, Iqaluit, Nunavut