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'Its good that we were able to race both places’ says Tuktoyaktuk Beluga Jamboree race mechanic

By Karli Zschögner
DeAndra and Don Storr at the 2023 Beluga Jamboree skidoo races in Tuktoyaktuk April 29. Photo courtesy Karli Zschögner

By Karli Zschögner

Special to Inuvik Drum

                                            DeeDee Nasogaluak with one of her dogs in the lead up to the annual dog race at the 2023 Beluga Jamboree in Tuktoyaktuk April 29. Photo courtesy Karli Zschögner
DeeDee Nasogaluak with one of her dogs in the lead up to the annual dog race at the 2023 Beluga Jamboree in Tuktoyaktuk April 29. Photo courtesy Karli Zschögner

With the cancellation of 2020 due to the pandemic and a last minute postponement so that they were not competing with jamboree last weekend with Inuvik, this year’s 53rd was held the final weekend of April 28 to May 1.

Friday evening kicked off with the announcement of their ‘King and Queen’ fundraisers followed by drum dancing and jigging.

“It means a lot helping out the community with all the fundraising from all the contestants,” said fundraiser winner Noah Gruben with his partner Chantel, who also won 10 years ago they said.

“It gives our community that much more to put towards the games that are happening and whatever prizes that the money that we raised could go towards or in the future as well,” said Chantel Gruben.

Uniquely and stirring community concern, the Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk jamborees had been scheduled for the same weekend. However mid-week prior to the Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk jamboree, the Tuktoyaktuk Beluga jamboree committee made the announcement of the week later rescheduling due to expected blizzards said jamboree chair Chelsea Raddi.

“We didn’t want to go ahead with the jamboree and then having the ITH close and not very many people from surrounding communities would have been able to come and enjoy the jamboree,” she said.

“Travel would be back and forth all weekend from the Beluga Jamboree to the Muskrat Jamboree, so the highway would have been really busy, like from people going back and forth. So we took that into consideration.”

“We had such a good outcome last year for jamboree that we’re hoping we’d have pretty well the same outcome this year.”

The last of the spring jamborees in the region, it brought people from across the Beaufort Delta, but also internationally.

“The drum dances are brilliant,” said Sarash Tiku from Bombay, India and drove from Vancouver on a road trip to see the arctic ocean hamlet. “I look forward to seeing the dog sled races.”

“I think when you live in cities of 50 million 20 million 10 million people there isn’t that sense of community that is there in Tuk.”

Unique compared to other regional jamboree races, for the Arctic Ocean Dog Sled Race, there back-to-back races both 12-mile 10 dog race followed by a 6-dog 8-mile race. With final scores to confirm the winnings.

With his first time in Tuktoyaktuk and also competing the first time competing in Akalvik and Inuvik’s jamboree dog races, Alberta’s Don Cousins won first in the 6-dog 8mile race overall with Inuvik’s JoJo Arey’s dog right behind him, and receiving second with Tuktoyaktuk’s Mitchell Jacobson in first for the 12-mile 10-dog race.

“It’s pretty cool to come up here and race on the Mackenzie River and race on the Arctic Ocean,” said Cousins, a musher for 44 years.

He said he’s always wanted to visit the hamlet which his veteran father had come to in taking some of the first aerial photos, and to visit the place of the historical international dog musher from Tuktoyaktuk Peter Norberg.

“I wanted to come up and see where Peter came from, and what Tuktoyaktuk is all about,” who had also spoke at Mangilaulik School. “His nephew is Jackie Jacobson and Jackie used to train with Peter when he was a young boy, so I think that’s pretty special.”

Rob Schausitz under Noksana Mushing and DeeDee Nasogaluak of Beaufort Sea Kennels were first-time dog racers at the jamboree.

“It means so much,” she said following Saturday’s race. “I grew up with my dad’s dogs all my life and now my brother has his own, it’s really nice to grow up around dogs.”

Splitting the back-to-backs, she raced the 8-mile as her older brother Joe David Nasogaluak.

“It was so nice and relaxing, I really liked it. My mind was just so peaceful just watching the dogs do their hard work.”

With this year’s dog sled race marshall’s MLA Jackie Jacobson and Mayor Erwin Elias for skidoo races, she said they make the decisions on race prize amounts including $3,000 for 1-dog race and $2,000 for six-dog race, and $5,000 for men’s 100-mile and $4,000 for women’s 75-mile.

Jimmy Kalinek, Isaac Lennie, and Aklavik youth Matthew McLeod placed first to third in both the Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk’s men’s 100-mile snowmobile track race.

Aklavik’s Courtney Charlie continued on as women’s snowmobile champion across the jamborees as in the 75-mile track race followed by Tuktoyatuk’s Sophie Stefure.

Prize money pays for the hobby

                                            Don Cousins with one of his sled dogs getting ready for the 2023 Beluga Jamboree dog races in Tuktoyaktuk on April 30. Photo courtesy Karli Zschögner
Don Cousins with one of his sled dogs getting ready for the 2023 Beluga Jamboree dog races in Tuktoyaktuk on April 30. Photo courtesy Karli Zschögner

Don Storr was there all weekend maintaining and fixing snowmobiles across the jamborees including for his nineteen-year-old daughter DeAndra Storr who placed fifth in the women’s 75-mile race.

“I look forward to it each year,” he said who says had raced for about 30 years while now putting his time in maintaining the racing sleds. “That’s where a lot of the fun is for us that pull wrenches is just in the shop time and just that alone.”

“I got this 800 for my daughter. And she was wanting to race right from when she was younger. So when she was of age I made sure I had a machine for her.”

With a kudos to year-round dog mushers who commit time and money into preparing for these races, having community jamborees on the same weekend is a concern on their budgets as well as overall sense of competitor community in being all together.

“It would have affected us because we would have had one less race to attend, he said. “When you’re a racer, usually you want to compete against the whole field, not just half of it.”

“It does help when you happen to get a prize because that money usually goes right back into the machines like for instance, tracks are $800 and for these machines that race every week, and you’re lucky if you get two weekends out of one track.”

He said the cost to maintain the skidoos for the four jamborees is around $10,000.

“It’s just good to see everybody on the same track, because it takes so much time and effort to get ready and it’s good that they worked that out.

“It’s good that we were able to race both places.”

“The friendships you make they last a lifetime like people I used to race against back in the day, they’re still good friends today,” he said. “We usually help each other to make sure that we all can participate.”

“It’s good to keep that tradition going, and for the new racers,” he said. “To be mindful and respect each other and help each other you can it goes a long way.”

The weekend events were also filled with jigging contests, traditional games including harpoon throwing, ice chiselling, and even rope wrestling.

For Saturday night following men and women’s snowmobile oval race and bingo was a significantly large 24 contestants talent show mainly guitar and singing. Judged on originality, creativity, technical ability, and presentation, Aklavik youth Brayden John won first for $1,500, followed by Chelsea Gorczyca and John Semple.

This year’s jamboree they dedicated to the late Bill and Lucy Cockney for their dedication and volunteer work in the past jamborees she said alongside the men’s 100-mile to local racer Emmanuel Felix Jr.