By Chris Marchand
When European explorers in the Arctic tried to emulate the traditional Inuit ice sled, Qamutiik, they thought nails might work better than the lashings favoured by the locals. In their conceit, they missed the point completely.
An Alternative Education class at Dryden High School recently embarked on a project to tap into traditional technology and build one of these sturdy sleds, used for centuries by the Inuit to transport heavy loads over uneven pack ice.
Like a person’s spine, the brilliance of the qamutiik is in its flexibility and absorb the constant pounding of tundra travel afforded by a series of loosely bound joints — the original independent suspension. The Europeans quickly found their own rigid sleds, constructed with nails, couldn’t handle the beating.
“We find ways to build lessons outside the classroom,” said Alternative Education Instructor Duncan Wilkinson. “A typical classroom environment five days a week is not so good for them.”
But hands-on work seems to connect with the youth, adds DHS Technology teacher David Darling who helped the students take the plans from the page to the shop.
“One of the teaching angles here is, ‘let’s look at the plan, understand it and try to put something together,” said Darling. “To me it’s an example of Indigenous technologies that existed long before anything that was brought here. I think it’s important to acknowledge that there have been people working with their environments to build and improve what they needed for hundreds of years. The design is absolutely a product of the environment it is being used in — the best solution to what they were doing.”
Alternative Education students tested their creation during a day of ice fishing.