Canadian Indigenous peoples have experienced rapid cultural changes in the last few generations. These changes, and the limited economic opportunities across the Canadian Arctic, create challenging socio-economic conditions. Maintaining a link to natural resources is extremely important for cultural, mental and physical wellbeing. This is accomplished by traditional activities such as fishing for arctic char, harvesting seals, caribou and polar bears. Community-based wildlife management, the sharing of wildlife products, conservation hunting and fur trade play an important role in defining their culture identity and enhancing community cohesion.
Polar bear hunting is highly regulated and largely subsistence-based for Indigenous communities in Canada’s North. Polar bear hunting is part of the traditional way of life, and Indigenous peoples benefit from the harvest through the use of skins, meat, and income generated from guided hunts and the sale of items, such as hides and handicrafts made from parts of the bear. Therefore, there is great interest and support in maintaining healthy and viable (sub) populations of this valuable and charismatic species. Numerous examples from around the world have demonstrated that keeping an economic link between wildlife and local populations is an important component of sound conservation.
"Inuit continue to maintain a connection with the land and their hunting traditions. The polar bear is an important species to the Inuit- culturally, spiritually, and, more recently, economically. Inuit knowledge, based on the experience and observations of hunters and passed from generation to generation, is an important part of polar bear management today. Local knowledge, observations and experiences provide spatial and temporal knowledge about the health of individual bears and their subpopulations". (From Inuvialuit and Nanuq: A Polar Bear Traditional Knowledge Study, 2015).
"Polar bears are greatly respected by Inuit hunters as the most intelligent animal in the Arctic, and as a symbol of the resilience, patience and determination that is need to survive in the harsh climate. Polar bear hunting is taken very seriously. Considered both exciting and dangerous, it is the pinnacle challenge of life in the Arctic. Polar bear hunting today is recognized for its value in preserving the Inuit connection to the land and their cultural identity. Elders feel it is vitally important to pass on and encourage this essential hunting activity in future generations.” (From Inuvialuit and Nanuq: A Polar Bear Traditional Knowledge Study, 2015).
“Polar bears and their harvest have long been an important part of Inuvialuit culture and economy. Many Inuvialuit stories reinforce the critical importance of polar bears, ice knowledge and safety, and provide guidance in difficult situations. In the days before trade in industrially derived commodities took hold, and when Inuvialuit lived outside of settled communities, polar bear meat was a welcome addition to the family diet. This meat nourished people and their dog teams alike, especially at certain times of the year when other food was in short supply. Polar bear pelts provided clothing, mattresses and tools. Apart from bears’ economic contribution, they also nourished the Inuvialuit imagination, due in large measure to their strength, agility, and above all, their great intelligence. Polar bears feature prominently in Inuvialuit mythology, spirituality, storytelling, art, song, and other forms of cultural expression and traditions. (From Inuvialuit Settlement Region Polar Joint Management Plan, 2017)
"Inuit have been hunting polar bear for generations. Polar bear meat is a good source of protein, niacin, vitamin A, riboflavin and iron. Their thick skin can be used to make warm clothing, blankets, and rugs; it can also be used as a mat to stand on while hunting seal at breathing holes. Their fat was once used as fuel, and their claws and teeth are still used to make art and jewellery." (From Hunting Polar Bear in the Winter, 2017).