North

Grandmother of man killed by polar bear calls for less gov't intervention in polar bear management

Only two women were part of Nunavut's polar bear management plan consultations. One of them was Elisapee Aglukka, whose grandson was mauled to death by a polar bear in August.

'Some of them won't even run away when people shoot to scare them off,' says Elisapee Aglukka

'It's still very difficult for me to talk about losing loved ones this way,' says Elisapee Aglukka. (CBC)

At last week's polar bear management plan consultations in Iqaluit, it was difficult to find a woman in attendance — but for one, the topic was so personal, it was impossible to stay away.

Elisapee Aglukka is the grandmother of Darryl Kaunak, who was mauled to death by a polar bear last August.

"We as Inuit have always been aware of the high number of polar bears," she said, in Inuktitut. Aglukka spoke at the meeting, saying that perhaps if Inuit were given the right to hunt female bears, that would "decrease the polar bear's danger to the Inuit in the communities."

The territorial government is holding public consultations for a new polar bear management plan, which is expected to incorporate more traditional Inuit knowledge than previous guides.

She said in her home community of Naujaat, polar bears will come into town. People try to scare them away, but she said they show up again.

"Some of them won't even run away when people shoot to scare them off."

Aglukka blames the territorial government in part for the bears' lack of fear. "Whenever the Department of Wildlife [Management] do their collar project they put them out, but they don't go to sleep and the whole time they are aware and can see people working on them. I think that is one of the reasons why the bears no longer fear people."

The territorial government is holding public consultations for a new polar bear management plan, which is expected to incorporate more traditional Inuit knowledge than previous guides. (CBC)

Aglukka said that it used to be a rarity to see a polar bear in town. But now that different levels of government have gotten involved, and the bears have become more and more protected, "the populations have increased tremendously."

Wildlife always moving

She said part of the problem with the research being done on the polar bear populations is that they are done in noisy helicopters, which typically stay around the communities, rather than all of the bears' habitats.

"The wildlife are always moving according to the seasons, which southern researchers doesn't seem to know as their report is based on only some parts of where the wildlife goes to."

Last summer, two Inuit men were mauled to death by polar bears: Aaron Gibbons, who was unarmed, and Darryl Kaunak, who was on a caribou and narwhal hunting trip. These were the first such deaths in the territory in 18 years.

"It's still very difficult for me to talk about losing loved ones this way," said Aglukkak through tears. "It's getting easier, but when I hear people talking about polar bears it all comes back."

She said it hurts when animal rights activists try to protect polar bears from being hunted, rather than protecting human safety.

"Animal activists react to issues without knowing the facts," she said. "This is not right. The Arctic is our home, our land and we as Inuit should be making our own laws and managing our wildlife.

"As Inuit, we always have been aware of the fact we should only hunt what we need. And as Inuit, wildlife is our main source of diet in the Arctic. When we hunt, we do not waste our catch, we eat it and live on it."

With files from Madelaine Allakariallak

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