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Indigenous People & Polar Bears

Nanuq has been integral to indigenous Arctic culture. 

Of all the animals that indigenous people in the Arctic traditionally hunted, Nanuq the polar bear was the most prized. Hunters considered Nanuq to be wise, powerful, and almost human.

In parts of the Arctic, indigenous people still hunt the polar bear as part of a subsistence lifestyle and long-held cultural traditions. These hunts are now carefully regulated.

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Indigenous communities

Indigenous communities eat polar bear meat and use the fur to make warm trousers for men and kamiks (soft boots) for women.

The liver is the only part of the bear that is traditionally discarded. Due to its toxic levels of Vitamin A, polar bear liver can make even sled dogs violently ill.

In the past, hunters paid respect to Nanuq's spirit by hanging its skin in an honored place in their home for several days. If the bear was male, the hunter offered the bear's spirit knives and bow-drills; if female, the hunter offered knives, skin-scrapers, and needle cases.

Legend held that if a dead polar bear was treated properly by the hunter, it would share the good news with other bears so they would be eager to be killed by him. Bears would stay away from hunters who failed to pay respect.

Other legends told of strange polar-bear men who lived in igloos, walked upright, and were able to talk. In these legends, the bears shed their skins in the privacy of their homes.

Bear Tracker

Watch polar bears as they travel across the sea ice to hunt seals.

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Polar Bear FAQ

We answer the most frequently asked polar bear questions.

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Climate Change

A threat to polar bears and the sea ice they depend on.

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