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Mushers considering boycotting Labrador Winter Games

Charlie Russell with his dog racing team in the 2016 Labrador Winter Games.
Charlie Russell with his dog racing team in the 2016 Labrador Winter Games. - Contributed

Group unhappy dog team racing changing to exhibition sport

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. —

A group of mushers in Labrador is looking at boycotting the Labrador Winter Games (LWG) unless the dog sled races are changed from exhibition sport back to being a regular event.

Dog team racing was always part of the LWG, with the races counting towards the total points for each community. This year it was changed to an exhibition sport, which some people think is a step towards removing the event from the games entirely.

“I think they’re only going to have it this one year, this games outside the games as I call it,” said Charlie Russell, a musher who lives in Labrador West. “The next games there’ll be no dog teams is my thinking, so I’d rather not be in this.”

Russell said as far as he’s concerned, the LWG should be about promoting Labrador culture and to him dog sledding is an integral part of that.

“It was a means of transportation, means of getting wood and water, hunting, fishing — that was your only means of transportation getting around back then,” Russell said. “To me a dart game or a ping-pong game has got nothing tied to our heritage, our culture.”

There are dog team races held in a number of communities each year for individuals, but competing in the LWG is the only chance for mushers/teams to race on behalf of their community.

Russell was one of a dozen mushers who signed a letter sent to the LWG saying they would not participate in the games if the dog team racing wasn’t reinstated as a competitive event.

The numbers of dog teams racing has declined over the years, one of the reasons given by the LWG for the change. In the 2016 and 2013 LWG there were seven teams and six teams, respectively. Russell said the LWG should be helping promote dog team racing and notes that changing it to an exhibition sport won’t do that.

Ernie McLean, president of the 2019 LWG, said they have reached out to the mushers and hope to have a resolution in the coming week.

Gil Caldwell of Charlottetown also signed the letter that was forwarded to the LWG. Caldwell wasn’t competing in the LWG but is a musher who has competed in other dog team races in Labrador. He wanted to show his support.

“It’s a disgrace to remove it in my opinion,” he told The Labradorian. “The boys are pretty proud to bring the teams in there and prove what they’ve got against the other towns.”

He echoed Russells comments that it’s an integral part of Labrador culture and that should be reflected in the games.

Caldwell said people have been breeding dogs just for the races and putting a lot of time and work into preparing. He hopes they can come to a resolution with the LWG to get the dog team racing back as a competitive sport.

The Labrador Winter Games begins March 17.

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