Reducing the threat of bear attacks in the Kivalliq depends on a cohesive effort that gives everyone a voice that will be heard, not “crazy talk,” said Arviat North/Whale Cove MLA John Main.
Main made the comments in the wake of two fatal bear attacks in the Kivalliq during the past two months.
Darryl Kaunak, 33, of Naujaat lost his life when a female polar bear and her cub surprised him and his hunting companions, Leo Ijjangiaq and Laurent Jr. Uttak, while they were having tea on the morning of Aug. 23 at Lyon Inlet, about 70 kilometres southeast of Naujaat.
In early July, Arviat resident Aaron Gibbons, 31, died after he placed himself between a polar bear and his children, who were able to run to safety.
“What we had happen in Arviat and Naujaat is just so incredibly sad,” said Main. “In speaking with family members, the people who were affected, it was just devastating to them. There’s a whole range of emotions that affect family members after something like this happens – anger, confusion, frustration and sadness – and I can’t really understand what it must be like for those family members right now.
“As a territory we have to, once again, try to look at this thing and understand it so that we can, hopefully, prevent it from happening again in the future.”
Main said it’s the duty of everyone in the territory to understand what has happened and make changes based on evidence.
He said it’s a hard thing to even talk about in the aftermath of the Arviat and Naujaat tragedies.
“We were not having a big conversation about wildlife management in the days following the fatal attack in Arviat,” he said. “As a community, we were just reeling while trying to make sure the families affected were taken care of as best as possible. It’s only in the months to come that we can really begin to digest things, better understand what happened, and work as quickly as possible to see what changes are needed and what those changes would look like on the ground.”
Main said it’s going to be very hard to have discussions concerning the polar bears that don’t get emotional.
He said that’s totally understandable, not just because of the two recent tragedies, but because wildlife is such a huge part on Inuit culture, with traditional knowledge of the animals going back thousands of years.
“Then you fast forward to today, when we have a multifaceted system to manage our wildlife, and there’s a lot of different moving pieces.
“In the two communities I represent, Arviat and Whale Cove, people have been frustrated over polar bear issues for years, whether it’s bears wrecking cabins or killing dog teams, and now the worst case scenario happens this summer and we lose two human lives.
“I don’t have the answers. My job as MLA is to listen to my constituents and the different organizations that work in my constituency, such as the Hunter and Trapper Organizations (HTO) and the Kivalliq Wildlife Board, and then try to advocate for things that will make life better.
“We can all agree polar bear-human interaction is a huge issue that’s been brought to the forefront by these attacks, and there needs to be a very serious discussion on what we can do.”
Main said it should not be a discussion where fingers are pointed due to the emotional nature of the topic. He said it needs to be a proper, informed debate on the available information, including traditional knowledge and a strong voice from all the different parties.
“It can’t just be the Government of Nunavut making decisions on its own. It all has to be done in consultation with the communities.
“What are the legitimate options on the table? We don’t want people there throwing out what I would call crazy talk fuelled by emotion, like shooting every bear on sight.
“We don’t ever, ever want to have a fatality like this happen again, and we don’t want the people of our region living in constant fear of the bears.
“But if people start going out and randomly shooting every bear they see, Nunavut loses its ability to manage polar bears and the federal government will take back the responsibility.
“If that happens there will be no more sports hunts up here, we’ll have even less say over polar bears than we do now, and we’ll still be in this position five years from now, pointing fingers of blame at the federal government.”