Polar bear sow and two 2-year-old cubs. Brad Josephs photo.
Despite frequent heart-wrenching images of starving polar bears in the news recently, populations of polar bears are apparently thriving in the Nunatsiavut region of northern Labrador. This is some welcome good news on the status of polar bears in the Arctic.
Based on a quota of 12 polar bears from licenses granted this year by the Nunatsiavut government, wildlife manager Jim Goudie reported that the Inuit quota was filled within the initial seven days of the season.
“There are lots of signs of bears,” he told CBC Radio’s Labrador Morning. “Lots of bears and a continuation of what we’ve seen over the last three or four years.”
According to Goudie, a 2007 survey showed there were around 880 polar bears in the northern Quebec and Labrador regions while the revised numbers recorded show 2,152. This increase is a dramatic rise in the population. Researchers are involved in a two – year study that is indicating even more positive numbers.
“You can go wherever you want to within Nunatsiavut or the Labrador Inuit settlement area to harvest your polar bear,” he said. “Anywhere outside of Nunatsiavut boundaries, the harvest would be illegal.”
To keep track of polar bear pelts that are often sold to wealthy suitors from Asia to Canada, the furs are embedded with a computer chip validating when and where it was taken as well as proof it was acquired through a legal hunt and not poached. Any meat that is not used by the hunters must be donated.
“I think our polar bear population is very, very healthy,” he said. “The Davis Strait polar bear population is probably one of the most healthy in Canada, and certainly in the world.”
With regards to other populations in general, Goudie says most are in good standing and only a few are declining. Still, the fear propaganda is in the news and can be misleading.
Goudie highlights a National Geographic post showing it first look a starving polar bear, but in reality, the polar bear was sick and not long for life.
“It’s an easy story to put out there, that polar bears are in massive trouble. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue or keep my fingers off the keyboard when I see those social media posts,” he said.
Hopes are high that all polar bear populations in the Arctic will continue to thrive and adapt to a warmer climate in the coming years.
Caroline speaks about the Dene culture in the region. Kim Clune photo.
Caroline Bjorklund was a Dene Elder and inspirational cultural speaker living in Churchill. She survived the Dene government relocation of the 1950’s and lived a life trying to keep the Dene culture and history alive through cultural presentations to tour groups and local institutions. Natural Habitat Adventures client/traveler and photographer Kim Clune captured this wonderful perspective of Caroline last fall in Churchill. Caroline passed away last week and will be remembered in all of our hearts for eternity.
One night, after scouting polar bears on the tundra, our group huddled around a table filled with items from native cultural history. Caroline Bjorklund opened her talk with a profound statement slid in-between some caribou facts.
“I finally started learning who I am. It’s hard. Especially when you’ve lost your language, your culture and your elders.”
Caroline’s story was like listening to two intertwined narratives, one a hunting documentary and the other a memoir of personal trauma. Both were woven into a found poetry that took some reflection to decipher.
Caroline and her two young brothers were ripped from their parents at a tender age. Terrified and screaming, she was forced into a helicopter and then a school where she was separated from her brothers and punished for speaking her own language. She never saw her family and was never taught the Dene (said Den-neh) culture, Dene being the tribe from which she came.
I had read about such things before, but here was a survivor, clearly marred by such horrific events, telling me her personal account.
Caroline’s parents, like many Dene, were likely moved to uninhabitable land after being told to abandon their means for survival, including canoes, tools, dogs and sleds. Many native tribes were told that these items would be later returned. They never were.
“Then alcohol was introduced and the people forgot who they were,” she said.
After burying so much of her own painful disconnect in alcohol for years, Caroline embraced sobriety and finally began to heal her heart and recapture her identity by learning tribal ways.
She told us about the Caribou once used by her family for food, clothing, sinewy fishing nets, and how no portion of the animal was wasted. She even learned to make a child’s game from boiling a caribou foot and stringing together the knuckles.These acts are not second nature and the ingredients not readily available, as they were for her parents. It took investigative work to unearth a way of Dene life that has been intentionally stripped from her and decimated.
Caroline’s mother and sister persuaded her to learn traditional beading, which she resisted taking up until recently. You’d never know it. To see her first work on a pair of mitts shows the attention she pays to detail and the care with which she makes each stitch. It’s as if she’s making up for lost time with precise intent.
Beadwork and leatherwork of Caroline’s coveted mitts. Kim Clune photo.
She has also learned about tribal medicine, spruce tree gum for disinfection and dwarf Labrador tea for flu-like symptoms. Her brother tricked her into drinking it once. It tasted terrible. The expression on her face as she told the story led to a genuine chuckle at this prank. Sibling shenanigans must be cherished after so much disconnect. But who am I to guess? I can’t even comprehend how lonely her life must have been.
One on one, after her talk, I asked Caroline when she was reunited with her brother, the one who convinced her to drink the tea.
She and her young brother were never reunited. Nor was she with her biological mother. She speaks of other tribe members as sister and brother. Elders are mother and granny. She calls them all teachers and family and cherishes each one, but none are the people she was born to.
Nat Hab guide Kurt Johnson and Caroline presiding over another amazing Dene cultural talk.Kim Clune photo.
What Caroline made so evident to me, somebody who knows only the textbook history is that this history is still very much alive and the story continues. Caroline is my sister, my mother, my granny, showing me that we can and must do better as human beings.
Sharing her most precious vulnerability, Caroline’s story is riddled with tangents. Speaking of these torments, again and again, causes her pain. Some talks are quite emotional, others more detached due to the fatigue of reliving her history. Regardless of the personal cost, she continues to educate on the very personal impact of inhumane policy and practice so that such atrocities never happen again.
Caroline is a true hero, spinning her suffering into harsh but necessary education. THIS is what I celebrated last Thanksgiving, as our own Native Americans continue to fight for their land and rights.
People on Bell Island of Newfoundland and Labrador have united to rescue a pod of dolphins stuck in thick pack ice since Sunday. In all, the group of islanders successfully rescued four dolphins by Monday.
“It was amazing to see a community come together to help these animals out,” said Jim Bennett, who was one of several people trying to help the stranded mammals.
Dolphins trapped in ice off Bell Island. Christopher Kitchen photo.
The Whale Release and Stranding’s Group initiated their effort at daybreak and worked tirelessly throughout the day. However, as with many stranding’s of this sort, casualties are part of the deal. Five of the dolphins died due to the extreme conditions – four were crushed by the ice and one didn’t survive transport to the release site.
After resident Lisa Gear posted a picture of the dolphins on her Facebook page depicting the dolphins nearly frozen into the ice, rescuers responded and had to work out some logistics and methods for moving the dolphins to safe water. After first using a sled to try and move them, a tarpaulin sling was eventually used for transport of the fragile beings.
An extension ladder was used to save one of the dolphins out farther in the ice. Walking past a few of the already expired dolphins was “surreal” for Jim Bennett. Working their way out to the animal allowed them to get a rope around it and guide it in.
A dolphin gets love and attention from Bell Island rescuers. Christopher Kitchen photo.
“[The dolphin] looked like it was on its last legs and all the community were hanging on to the rope by the shore and they pulled it in,” recalled Bennett, who said he is from Ontario.
“I was completely impressed how people came together in crisis down by the water. This could only happen in Newfoundland. It was really great.”, stated Bennett.
The surviving dolphins were bleeding from their ice – scraped skin layer. While the injured dolphins were attended to some Bell Island citizens brought thawed capelin and herring to feed the animals.
“We were told that to just leave them alone but, as animals ourselves, it just didn’t make sense to just let them perish.” added Bennett. For now the survivors look good and energized.