The Nunavut Quest sled dog race is cancelled for the second year in a row

“If there’s no COVID, we can try again next year.”

Pond Inlet musher Michael Inuarak is hoisted in the air after completing the Nunavut Quest in 2017. That year the race began in Arctic Bay and ended in Igloolik, as it would have this year, prior to the race’s cancellation to avoid the spread of COVID-19. (Nunatsiaq News file photo)

The Nunavut Quest has been cancelled due to pandemic-related concerns, just days before the 500-kilometer sled dog race was scheduled to start.

Fourteen participants would have mushed from Arctic Bay to Igloolik over a week, starting on April 26.

Rhoda Natanine, the vice-chairperson of the Nunavut Quest committee, said organizers and participants put lots of work into preparing for the event and some were disappointed with the news, “but we want everybody to be safe.”

“If there’s no COVID, we can try again next year,” Natanine said about the event.

Qikiqtani Inuit Association president P.J. Akeeagok said in a news release they did not come to the decision lightly.

“We were eagerly anticipating being vocal fans of this year’s race, but the health and safety of Qikiqtani Inuit must be the number one priority.”

At a news conference on Wednesday, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said “we’re recommending strongly against all non-essential travel between communities right now and that includes events like the Nunavut Quest.”

Last year’s event — slated to be the 20th race — was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

Earlier this month, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association announced $100,000 in new funding for the Nunavut Quest each year for seven years.

The funding came from the Government of Canada, after a formal apology to Qikiqtani Inuit, which acknowledged colonial practices between 1950 and 1975 that changed Inuit ways of life.

This included the killing of qimmiit, or sled dogs.

In light of the race’s cancellation, QIA is giving each team $5,000 to cover costs related to preparing for the race, and organizers will get $10,000 to cover costs for preparing this year’s race and to prepare for next year’s event.

It is also giving $20,000 to the QIA Qimmiit Revitalization Program for future races.

“QIA would like to acknowledge all the 2021 race organizers … their contributions to the dog teaming community in our region do not go unnoticed,” stated the release.