Bear aware: NunatuKavut teaching, learning about polar bears

The NunatuKavut Community Council is promising to both teach — and learn — about polar bears in Labrador education sessions this month.

The group is holding five polar bear safety sessions in Labrador, and is pledging to follow that up with a study about Indigenous knowledge of the animals.

Trish Nash, a biologist with NunatuKavut, said the council identified a real need to gather and document Indigenous knowledge of polar bears from the community.

"The Nunatukavut members have lived with polar bears for thousands of years, so there's so much knowledge in our communities about polar bears. But there's nothing that has been documented," she told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"There's really nothing on paper."

Nash says the study will help the group learn more about when and where polar bears are seen in the NunatuKavut area, and how people have been dealing with them.

Regular visitors

Derrick Pottle, who will be holding the bear safety sessions for the group, says bear interactions are becoming more and more common for people who live further inland.

"Costal communities, you are living in the migratory route of polar bears," he said.

"And people that are further inland, well even in a lot of cases now black bears...they're pretty much in all of our communities for eight to nine months a year."

Pottle says he wants to teach people about polar bear behaviour to avoid injury to humans — and to bears themselves.

Education sessions were held in St. Lewis, Charlottetown and Norman Bay this week. Two more or scheduled, for Black Tickle on Sunday and in Cartwright in the next week.

Dos and don'ts

Two weeks ago in Battle Harbour, not far from St. Lewis, a couple of property owners got an unpleasant surprise from a polar bear. Nelson Smith says one broke the window of his summer home, and left a bloodied paw print on another cabin in the area.

Nash says many people in the NunatuKavut community feel young people can learn from polar bear safety sessions.

"We see some pictures last year on Facebook of younger adults that are approaching bears and trying to get nice photographs," she said.  "But it's important for them to understand that bear behaviour and be knowledgeable about what they should and shouldn't do."