Climate Craze Contributes to Loss of Inuit Freedom
by Vijay Jayaraj
Polar bear populations remain healthy in the Arctic irrespective of the once popular images of bears somehow suffering from a warming planet. Nevertheless, native people’s freedoms are being restricted by impractical government policies inspired by an irrational adherence to a doomsday vision.
Canada is home to approximately two-thirds of the global polar bear population. The Inuit people of Canada have a long-standing history with bears, relying on them for food, clothing, and other essential resources. For generations, they have hunted these majestic creatures as part of their traditional way of life.
The Inuit have a deep understanding of the polar bear’s behavior, habitat, and population dynamics. They are intimately familiar with the natural rhythms of the Arctic environment and have developed sophisticated strategies for hunting and managing polar bears over centuries of living in the region.
In fact, Inuit hunters have been instrumental in collecting data on polar bear populations and habitat use, which has helped researchers better understand the species and develop more effective conservation strategies.
The Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature says, “The traditional knowledge and expertise of these communities must be respected and integrated into decision-making processes.”
Growing Restrictions on Harvest Numbers
In 1973, Canada, along with other countries, signed the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, which established quotas for the legal hunting of the animals. The agreement also outlined strict regulations to ensure that the hunting was sustainable and did not negatively impact the overall population.
The Canadian government’s own website on the socio-economic importance of bears shows that the restrictions on bear harvest numbers will impact the needs of their communities. However, in recent years, restrictions have become even more stringent as the government continues to reject calls for greater freedom in harvesting bears and cites concerns over the long-term sustainability of the bear population.
The restrictions have led to frustration among the Inuit people. In 2017, Kivalliq wildlife officials said an increasing bear population was endangering people. “Polar bear encounters with humans have increased significantly, especially near Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet and Whale Cove,” said the Kivalliq Wildlife Board.
“Every night we’re having bear problems, every single night, and I’m not just saying it … Our kids, our grandkids, we’ve got to watch them, every single night now,” said the board president, Stanley Adjuk of Whale Cove.
This decision sparked outrage among the Inuit people, who argued that they were being unfairly restricted in their traditional practices and that their knowledge (on Polar bear population numbers) and expertise were being ignored.
Polar Bear Populations Are Increasing and Are Healthier
They are right. A 2022 scientific report on the health of the Davis Strait polar bear population showed that there was a general increase in polar bears in both the Kimmirut and Pangnirtung regions of Nunavut.
In Kimmirut, the interviews of Inuit survey participants indicated that the polar bear population had increased by an average of 73 percent since the 1970s and 14 percent since 2005. The report, which is recognized by the government of Canada, noted that 94 percent of polar bears in the study area exhibited “healthy” fat levels.
“In my lifetime we have seen opposite ends of the spectrum, where when I was a child we saw no bears and now we can see 40 bears a year near town,” said Sandy Akavak, an elder from Kimmirut.
Inuit leader and activist Tommy Akavak says, “We’re not out there just hunting for the sake of hunting. We’re hunting for food, for our families, and for our communities. And we’re doing it in a way that respects the bears and the environment. But when the government tells us we can’t hunt, it’s like they’re taking away our ability to take care of ourselves and our land.”
Despite the evidence supporting the Inuit’s right to hunt polar bears, a Canadian government apparently blinded by an obsession with a non-existent climate crisis refuses to grant native people greater autonomy over their own resources.
This loss of Inuit freedom is just one among many causalities of unscientific climate policies.
Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK and resides in India.