© Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com

Indigenous People & Polar Bears

Polar bears have played an important role in indigenous Arctic cultures for thousands of years.

In parts of the Arctic, the Inuit and other indigenous people still hunt the polar bear as part of a subsistence lifestyle and long-held cultural traditions. These hunts are now carefully regulated to ensure the bears are not over-harvested. 

The Inuit have long considered Nanuq, the polar bear, to be wise, powerful, and almost human. Of all the animals they traditionally hunted, these powerful bears were the most prized. 

© Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com

Indigenous communities

Subsistence hunters rely on polar bears for both food and clothing. They use the fur to make warm trousers and kamiks (soft boots).

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.

Check out Bear Tracker

© Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com

Polar Bear FAQ

We answer the most frequently asked polar bear questions.

Go to FAQ

Climate Change

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

Learn More

© Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com