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NTI brings Inuit voice to National Polar Bear Roundtable

(January 19, 2009 ) Representatives from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. delivered a clear message at last week’s National Polar Bear Roundtable: do not underestimate the accuracy of Inuit traditional knowledge or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) when dealing with issues surrounding the polar bear.

Raymond Ningeocheak, Vice-President of Finance, and Gabriel Nirlungayuk, Director of Wildlife, were among the Inuit representatives from NTI that joined scientists, environmentalists and government officials, including federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, at the one-day session held in Winnipeg.

We attended this roundtable in the spirit of cooperation and with the common goal of ensuring the health and wellbeing of the polar bear population, said Mr. Ningeocheak. Contrary to popular opinion, Inuit listen to scientists and agree with many of their findings. However, we also know polar bear research is relatively new and it has its limitations.

Inuit speakers provided the Minister with examples of recent cases wherein researchers underestimated the abundance of wildlife, only to find later that Inuit advice based on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) proved to be correct.

Currently, Inuit believe the polar bear population is healthy, while scientists argue the population is in decline. At the roundtable, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) agreed with Inuit and stated Canada’s polar bears are not threatened or endangered. They maintained numbers have increased 17% between previous and current field surveys.

Inuit and other roundtable participants vehemently agreed on one issue: global warming is a major concern for Arctic wildlife, including polar bears. Inuit leaders hope this will abate the call to lower hunting quotas.

“Hunting does not melt the sea ice; Arctic warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions melts the sea ice,” said Mr. Nirlungayuk. “Canadians know that cutting polar bear harvest levels would do nothing to protect the bears against the loss of their habitat. However, cutting polar bear harvest levels will have a detrimental effect on Inuit culture.”

Many participants called on the Minister to take real action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, Inuit recommended that the federal government consider the following:

  • Negotiate a Canada-Greenland co-management agreement with Inuit participation, enabling joint harvest levels for shared populations;
  • Manage polar bears on the basis of real population levels rather than artificial management units;
  • Set target levels that account for population fluctuations;
  • Include Inuit in all aspects of polar bear management, including research, and,
  • Substantially increase polar bear research funding to the Government of Nunavut (GN).

Inuit leaders also reminded the Minister that under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the Government of Canada must continue to consult with Inuit when considering any actions that could affect their rights to harvest and trade polar bear.

For further information:

Franco Buscemi
Assistant Director of Communications
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated
Tel: (867) 975-4939
Toll-free: 1-888-646-0006

NR 09-01 POL ENG Polar Bear Roundtable.doc