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Are bears just misunderstood?

In this week’s newsletter, reporter Joy SpearChief-Morris takes us to her summer camp days in Waterton Lakes National Park, where her first bear encounter was — and where Indigenous Knowledge is being incorporated into wildlife conservation

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Tourists pose for a photo in front of a cutout of a black bear in Waterton Lakes National Park
“I was never really afraid of bears,” reporter Joy SpearChief-Morris told me, recalling her first interaction with a bear. It happened when she was just nine years old at a summer camp in southwestern Alberta.

Should she have been scared? After all, bears (especially grizzlies) have been stereotypically — and incorrectly — portrayed as killers since the arrival of settlers in North America.

She wasn’t. She’d been a fan of bears her whole life. Growing up, the stories she’d been told about the furry creatures were full of reverence and admiration.

“As a Blackfoot woman, my relationship with bears was always based in respect,” Joy said.

But she knew fear of the animal kept many people out of the woods. One wildlife biologist also told Joy it’s this misconception, which eventually led to humans killing or injuring them, that “made bears dangerous.”

Wondering if western views and Indigenous ideologies about bears were different, she spoke with Elder Mike Bruised Head from the Kainai Blood Tribe last summer. For the Blackfoot people, he told Joy, bears are a cultural keystone species that lived with them in harmony — a relationship which changed after colonization.

“I started thinking, ‘What if the idea that bears aren’t always to be feared was incorporated into policy?’ ” Joy said.
 
Making trips across southern Alberta to chat with biologists, conservationists and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, Joy started digging. She found the negative perception of bears is changing.

The same national park that hosted her summer camp back when she was nine — Waterton Lakes National Park — has been at the forefront of that very effort. It’s the first national park to have a fully Indigenous team of wildlife guardians who teach visitors about the importance of coexisting with animals.

Joy was happy to go back to her old stomping grounds where she first encountered the cinnamon-and-black-coloured bear. She told me she still carries bear spray with her when heading into the wilderness, even though she’s not frightened when she sees one. 

“Not every single bear is going to attack people — but they are still wild animals! And they should be respected as such,” she said. 

Take care and don’t poke the bear,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor

 
Photo of Julia-Simone Rutgers

Some good vibes in Manitoba


We’ve got some more good news to share: Manitoba reporter Julia-Simone Rutgers was selected as the recipient for the Goff Penny Memorial Prize for young Canadian journalists.

The jury cited Julia-Simone’s impressive “deep investigations, compelling writing and long features with complex narratives” that focus on climate change and environment both in Winnipeg and around Manitoba.

“I am unbelievably honoured and proud to be this year’s award recipient,” Julia-Simone said. “Local news about the environment matters now more than ever.”

Julia-Simone’s work that won her the award includes a feature on Peguis First Nation tackling a major flood, the arrival of chronic wasting disease in Manitoba and Winnipeg’s pothole predicament.

 
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What we’re reading


For The Walrus, Sarah Musgrave writes about how a military base became a safe haven for endangered species

Want to meet the grandmothers taking action on climate change? Read about them in Chatelaine.
 
How you can fall asleep tonight knowing bears usually aren’t dangerous (as long as you’re bear smart). Want your friends to care about bears too? Tell them to sign up for our weekly newsletter.
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