Native American Wisdom on Polar bears and Kappiananngittuq:

By Jim Steele

Native American Wisdom and Kappiananngittuq:

Polar Bears and Bowhead whales

published Pacifica Tribune April 17, 2019

What’s Natural column

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Native American Wisdom and Kappiananngittuq: Part 1

In 2010 Nunavut’s Minister of Environment Daniel Shewchuk wrote, “Inuit hunters have a close relationship with the land and wildlife. They have observed that the overall population of polar bears in Nunavut is not declining as some suggest, but rather is thriving. No known environmental or other factors are currently posing a significant or immediate threat to polar bears overall. Furthermore, Inuit knowledge and science corroborate that the species can and will adapt to changing and severe climatic conditions, as it has done for centuries.”

The Inuit truly practice the concept of “it takes a village”. Hunters sit down in kappiananngittuq and respectfully share their observations of wildlife and their movements. Kappiananngittuq is the Inuit word for a “safe place to discuss”. Based on community discussions, Inuit have steadfastly claimed it is “The Time of the Most Polar Bears”. Overhunting has been one of the world’s greatest threats to wildlife. And the growing number of polar bears is testimony to wise hunting regulations now honored by the Inuit.

In contrast, based on questionable computer models, some western scientists have argued two-thirds of all polar bears will be extinct by the year 2030. Climate scientists like Gavin Schmidt sitting in his New York office, suggested the Inuit are in total denial. Sadly, in climate politics there is no kappiananngittuq where people safely discuss divergent knowledge. If you dare disagree with models of gloom and doom, you are attacked as an ignorant denier.

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A well-fed polar bear


In part 2, I will present abundant scientific evidence supporting Inuit claims that it is the “time of the most polar bears”. But first I present an example of the Inuit’s amazing ability to correctly diagnose changes in Arctic wildlife populations. Kappiananngittuq discussions consistently resulted in accurate conclusions, far superior to western science.

Due to overharvesting during the early 20thcentury, Bowhead whales were undeniably on the brink of extinction. In response, commercial hunting of Bowheads along the Canadian Arctic was wisely banned in 1951. Inuit subsistence hunting continued until 1979 but was later prohibited. After extensive debate, a limited licensed subsistence hunt was eventually renewed in Nunavut in 1996.

When the Inuit first petitioned to hunt the Bowhead in the 1980s, scientists argued the Bowhead population had not yet recovered to the sustainable numbers needed to safely permit subsistence hunting. The Inuit insisted scientists grossly underrepresented the whale’s abundance due to faulty surveys. It is not exactly clear how the Inuit counted, but by compiling their community’s observations, they concluded there were three times more Bowhead than scientific models suggested.

Many non-Inuit were suspicious, insinuating Inuit estimates were a self-serving calculation driven by their desire to hunt more whales. Off-hand comments portrayed Inuit estimates as mere hunches lacking written documentation and verifiable observations. Inuit science was not considered on par with hi-tech calculations.

But scientific surveys frequently suffer from a wide range of biases and inaccuracies. Models are often just the best guesses of a small group of scientists that get translated into numbers and equations. The data that feed their models are often limited by scant observations.

In the 1970s, during the Bowhead’s spring migration, scientists perched on hilltops, or pressure ridges in the ice. They counted whales as they migrated north through the open-water “leads” along the north coast of Alaska. They erroneously assumed that when the winds changed and ice temporarily closed those leads, whales stopped migrating. Only after the winds again shifted and the leads reopened, did scientists continue their count. Based on such survey assumptions, scientists modeled that only 2000-3000 Bowhead whales existed. And such small numbers meant the whales were still endangered.

In contrast Inuit hunters had always ventured much further out on the ice. Based on experience, they argued that when open-water leads closed, the whale migration still continued. The swirling pack ice always generated chaotic but sufficient springtime cracks and leads, providing whales enough opportunities to breathe.

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Bowhead Whale creating breathing hole

Bowheads also break relatively thin ice to make their own breathing holes. Whales were never restricted to large open-water leads along the coast. Thus, Inuit hunters argued the scientists had been blind to the majority of migrating whales. To their credit, western scientists re-designed their surveys to address the Inuit’s criticisms. The Inuit were proven correct, and amazingly had correctly calculated that Bowhead populations were 3 times higher than scientists had estimated. I suggest we all could benefit by debating kappiananngittuq style.


Jim Steele is the retired director of San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism.

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71 thoughts on “Native American Wisdom on Polar bears and Kappiananngittuq:

  1. Fortunately the Bowhead whales haven’t become poster children for the Climate Change crowd, so the scientists were willing to listen to others and to challenge their own assumptions.

    Such self criticism is no longer permitted in Climate Science.

    • Simple, they’re all wet, cold & slimy, not lending themselves to the image of soft, warm & cuddly.

    • This is true image that should horrify every green ‘veggie’ eco climate warrior, photograph of the most vicious of creatures, a well nourished male polar bear that has just killed and cannibalized its own cub. Photo was taken about 180 miles north of the Canadian town of Churchill on Nov. 20, 2009.

      • The bears have cannibalized-cub. We have cannibalized-child, in close association with selective-child, when the baby is planned and profitable. There seems to be little apparent difference between the character of evolution and social progress.

      • How do we know it was “his own’ cub? The polar bears not-to-distant-cousins the brown bears in Alaska frequently try to kill cubs. (I have heard it theorized that brings their mothers into season more quickly. )

    • It isn’t just climate science. You aren’t allowed to disagree with any the Left’s hobby horses. If this keeps up 1984 will be here (only a few decades late and a lot worse).

      • ingsoc andnewspeak are with us already as is a goodly part of 1984
        your tv and phones and other appliances already eavesdrop and spy via cameras ON you. microsofts gamebox thingy is one.

        • Only too true. Especially in Europe. Sites such as WUWT would be shut down over there.

      • “…some western scientists have argued two-thirds of all polar bears will be extinct by the year 2030.”

        Didn’t extinct use to mean all of them are gone and they are not coming back?

        Climate scientists and their coddlers (the media) refuse to use language correctly and communicate clearly. Mostly they just use a lot of misdirection and obfuscation. One more piece of evidence that almost all this is a farce.

  2. Direct observation will ALWAYS Trump; extrapolations, estimates, and models. Wouldn’t it be nice to remove all BIAS from ‘science’? Bias, that taints ‘scientific’ results? Pretending that ‘scientists’ are all PURE of motive … PURE and free from all bias is ridiculous and smacks of RELIGIOUS dogma.

    • Direct observation will ALWAYS Trump; extrapolations,

      Oh my! What a quaint and outdated understanding of science you have.

      Scientists have a moral obligation to exaggerate, twist and distort the data to maintain momentum to achieve “ambitious ” targets to cut GHG and save the planet. Being an “activist-scientist” and engaging in “communication” is part of the job description.

      Gone are the days when it was sufficient to be a lefty after a few pints, down at the pub, on your time off.

      As “Sir David” tells us “it’s hard to exaggerate”. We are half way through the next mass extinction. ( OK, so it wasn’t THAT hard, was it ?) .

      … and “70% of bird species have gone”. ( OK , so finally, it’s pretty easy just to make shit up but it’s sure to get you published in the Guardian.)

      • Bill Mollison of Permaculture fame told me that 87% of statistics are made up. I have no evidence his claim is untrue, so according to the EPA, I have to accept it.

        With logic like that, I could regulate a whole nation!

        • A longstanding but now retired journalist at The Daily Mail used to refer to the National Guesswork Authority.

    • Separation of logical domains. Deductive rather than inferential reasoning. Replication, not consensus. Plainly stated assumptions/assertions. A model is a hypothesis, of course, of course.

    • The models all agree….the observed data is wrong..not mine but still funny. Not sure who to cite.

  3. I suggest we let a group of these First Nations observers travel up the length and breadth of the Great Barrier Reef in their outboard dinghies and do a proper count of how much coral bleaching / die-off is really happening.

    My bet is they’d report about 10% of what the James Cook University team has been hyperventilating over.

      • Yes they could.
        But they would probably be persuaded to provide their observations via the “Centre Of Excellence” at JCU.
        And then these observations would never see the light of day.

  4. The Climate Changers are all part of a huge cult. Don’t take my word for it, check out the definition of a cult. You will see.

    • Ah, but they have a consensus, a political consensus. The Earth is flat. Perhaps in a peculiar geometry.

      • Of COURSE the earth is flat – look down at it from 10,000 ft, it is flat; from 100,000 ft looking straight down, it is flat. From space, same thing (it is a bit rounded on the edges but most of it is flat – any time of day or night). From the moon’s orbit it is a flat disk, no matter which side you look at.
        Any more questions?

        • On a long flight several years ago I took a sheet of paper and used it as a straightedge against the horizon.

          I saw that the horizon was distinctly curved.

          Oh gosh, I’ve never computed the departure of the horizon from horizontal. Lessee, radius 4,000 miles, airplane height 7 miles, departure theta would be the same as the angle between the center of the Earth, plane, and the horizon point, so, cos(theta) = 4000/4007, and theta = 3.4%.

          Why isn’t this common knowledge?

    • Wait, climate change is real and spectacular. However, Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change a.k.a. Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming a.k.a. et cetera is prophecy for profit. Fortunately, most people are not so green.

    • It doesn’t take a lot of religious fervor to lie, slander, cheat, steal, and fudge data to keep the taxpayer”s money rolling in at the rate of about $10 Billion a year split up between 20,000 mostly new climate related scientists…and the fervor swells because it strongly supports their neo-Marxist world view. That’s about half a $million for each fake scientist PER YEAR. What’s not to like? AND WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THE REPUBLICANS DO ANYTHING ABOUT THIS ATROCITY when they controlled both Houses of Congress and the Presidency?….that money was being spent in their States or Districts is why.

      Pretty cool system…you get to take tons of money from your productive taxpaying freedom loving and America loving enemies, and use it to produce Fake Science to help destroy their beloved nation.

      • The reason they didn’t and couldn’t get completely rid of Obama care is that a majority in Congress isn’t sufficient to turn off the government spigot. Because of the filibuster rule in the Senate, which up until about the `80’s was invoked rarely, you need a super-majority in the Senate to kill pork. The Republicans have never had a super-majority, the Democrats did have a super majority when ObamaCare was passed. Otherwise it never would gotten a vote in the Senate.

        • Little bit of an edit: first line should read: The reason they didn’t and also the reason they couldn’t get completely rid of Obama care is that a majority…..” rest the same

        • Well, democracy, and the conventional problem of overlapping and converging interests. Furthermore, the fact that the medical sector is operating with progressive prices passed to consumers through insurance, underfunded Medicare, and unfunded Medicaid (e.g. Obamacare), only serves to exacerbate and amplify their desperation, and the situation is further complicated by progressive diseases (e.g. HIV, cancer, diabetes).

      • People fight back when you threaten to remove their source of funding. It is the nature of the freeloading beast. They have managed to double the budget for discretionary spending in Washington DC since Obama Took office. Trump love him or hate him has only agree to keep the money flowing freely. This, it is sad to say, will not end until the debt obligation exceeds our ability to pay. The millennial will great that day with great sorrow. For the Tsunami of $70 Trillion in unfunded liabilities: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is about to wipe out the low income

        Then comes a depression unlike anything history has known and those standing dependent on Uncle Sugar to pay their mortgage, light the household and put food on the table will riot with deadly purpose. Our Climate Scientists will be masterminding the riots despite the fact that they will finally get what they have pretended to be advocated all along, an end to affordable fossil fuel energy.

  5. Field data, provided by independent, experienced, unbiased field observers, is the gold standard for analytical purposes. Field data from grant seeking, inexperienced, biased johnny-come-lately’s should always be suspect.

  6. Agreed. They are a cult as an earlier post made clear. How do rational civilized people handle cults? We destroy them using the levers of power available under the law. How many would still be alive if Jim Jones was locked away in San Quentin rather than being embraced by the Democrats of San Francisco. Republicans who believe that they can compromise by a modified presentation of cult doctrine are low hanging fruit. Leaving them hanging in the political tree will serve to focus the minds of their compatriots. Congressman Matt Gaetz should do nicely.

  7. The moral of the Inuit story – careful observation and honest communication beats models and computer theories every time.

    • I relate the success to having a neutral platform at which people could speak frankly in a non-threatening manner. One only needs a few rules for honest consultation. The first it to admit that the best answer comes from the group, not any one individual. The second is to learn that a new idea is from inspiration derived from the group and was not the work of any one individual. “Letting go” of an idea after contributing it is easier if it is attributed to the group, not one person.

      The standard Western method of “consulting” looks like a contest of wills and that “winning” with one’s personal opinion is a positive outcome, attracting to the “winner” prestige and respect. Traditional societies do not think that way, thank goodness. They learned long ago how to survive best (that’s why they are the ones left). High quality consultation is rare in Western culture. It is bog-standard in traditional social settings.

      My anthropologist friend described the necessity of such a skill set as follows. “Tribal societies learned to resolve conflict through indirect means, because if they confront someone directly, one of them is likely to die as a result. The tribe cannot afford to lose people in that manner so they developed ways to communicating displeasure with someone’s behaviour via indirect means typically through people close to the offender.”

      My guess is that as far as the Inuit were concerned, the scientists in the bowhead whale count consulted like children or young teenagers, anxious to get their ideas out and defend them against alternative interpretations or direct refutation. To learn just a little, read “Never in anger” by Jean Briggs. Read how the Utku Inuit deal with strong emotions. They feel (in that community) that anger is reserved for small children. No adult would ever say or do something in anger. They privately think the southerners all behave like badly-trained children.

      In Africa it is similar. People consult wisely, the “head” listens carefully gauging the general gist and accepting the advice of his counsellors. When a consensus is emerging, he announces, “I have decided…” Western observers think he is “the bass” deciding upon his whim. But they cannot see the undercurrents, the stresses and competitions that flow through the community. Often, they also have no idea what is being said because so much of the discussion is in allegorical terms.

      If a Pondo chief says, “All cows must be painted blue,” the next speaker will say, “The Chief has said that all cows must be painted blue. This is very wise. What he meant by that is…” and the direct contradiction is provided as an “interpretation” of what was said. It is very stylised and formal, while anything at all can be said including support or contradiction. No one goes to Pondland to teach “consultation”. You go there to listen and learn. As the continuing conversation flows, you have to be quick to follow what is being meant amid what is being said. Never assume that someone is not wise because they did not go to school. That is a big mistake.

      Yes, materialism is invading communities and destroying these precious skills, but there is still time to learn from them.

    • Yes. Models (i.e. hypotheses) are best considered in the philosophical logical domain, which may prove to conform with observation in the scientific logical domain (i.e. near-domain or limited frame of reference).

  8. … The Inuit were proven correct, and amazingly had correctly calculated that Bowhead populations were 3 times higher than scientists had estimated. I suggest we all could benefit by debating kappiananngittuq style.

    Imagine that.
    The observations of those that live close to nature were more accurate than those who live close to computer models.
    Kudos to those scientists studying Bowheads for considering and accepting these facts.
    (Waiting for the day I can offer “kudos” to climate “scientists’.).

  9. Northern version of ‘crowd sourcing’.
    The difference is that the hunters are generally experts in the field. They know what they are seeing and what they are not seeing.
    They know a lot of stuff that people who go to ‘sustainability class’ don’t know or believe.

  10. I would be terrified to live among giant carnivores that only see you as a protein snack. They are not cute, nor cuddly, nor friendly, nor in any way delicate. They are giant white furred eating machines.

    It’s one thing to be raised in a city and only know of them because of television or now youtube. It’s quite another to come face to face with a wild bear, any wild bear, and have no way to protect yourself. Luckily, the only bears I have encountered in the wilderness have been black bears and they are not AS aggressive.

    If I ever backpack in Alaska, I will only be there with a large caliber rifle in hand, yeah, loaded. I have no wish to harm a bear, but I also have no wish to be their dinner.

    If the Inuit want to hunt these creatures, let them hunt them. They share the same land. The Native Americans were here long before college educated ecologists arrived. I have more faith in the Inuit’s than I do in any government program.

    • Environmentalism is one of diverse crutches used by politicians and empathetic corporations for leverage over their competitors.

    • Maybe they have a sweet tooth. Idi Amin, an expert on such things, said people taste salty – like leopard. I will have to take his word for it as I am not getting near enough to a polar bear to ask.

  11. I seem to recall a drive by alarmist (Griff perhaps) touting peer reviewed experts squatting 1000’s of miles from polar bear territory as being more credible on the subject than the Inuit who live with the polar bears. Indigenous knowledge is sacred to the “woke” except when it is inconvenient.

    • Robert of A

      Sacred implies sincere respect. I am not sure it goes that far. “Cute” and “exploitable” are closer to the truth. When it is inconvenient, it is “misguided” and “made-up to explain something they didn’t really understand correctly, the way we do.” We should walk around with mirrors.

      How much of our “Western belief” system is made up to explain things we don’t understand very well? Dark Matter, for instance. 😉

      • Dark Matter and Dark Energy are in the same category as ether. I.e. you can’t detect them but they have to be there because without them theory doesn’t doesn’t match observations (gee where have we seen that before?). You might as well postulate rainbow colored unicorn farts.

        • The “Big Bang” is inferred from limited, circumstantial evidence , and the expanding universe “theory” and dark matter/energy or “missing links” belong in the philosophical logical domain. Perhaps, one day, we will make a close observation of something beyond the solar horizon, and we will still be no closer to observing the “universe”. But, people need to believe, in something, anything.

  12. It appears that the Pacific coastal populations of both gray and humpback whales are at or above pre-industrial scale whaling numbers. We could get to a point where taking some portion of their number each year will be necessary to prevent boom/bust population cycles.

    • It is evident in the posted link.
      The “..pdf” needs to be a part of it.

      I had this yesterday (x2) when posting a link – the .(pdf) was posted in black.

    • errr…hmmmm. ??????

      Although the link focuses on a single hunter, the pdf clearly supports everything in my post. Mosher’s errr…hmmmm seems very odd!

  13. N .N April 19 has it right. Its the humans need to believe in something
    which has caused so much death and misery in this world over times
    past

    Re. the Big Bang”, Hoyle’s “”Steady State ” makes a lot more sense to me.
    and it does not require vast amounts of energy from somewhere
    to go from a tiny bit of matter, to becoming a vast Universe

    MJE VK5ELL

    • You are wrong, Michael. All that was required for the Big Bang was a Disturbance in the Force. Beware of the Dark Matter, the Dark Side I sense in you. Feel the Force.
      Sorry I’m a couple of weeks early for May 4th, but I just couldn’t resist.

    • The major problem with the steady state is entropy. Why, if the universe didn’t have a beginning, hasn’t the universe run down already? As I remember about steady state theory supposedly throughout the universe, enough hydrogen atoms are popping into existence daily to offset entropy. Same issue as with the Big Bang. Something coming out of nothing.

  14. “some western scientists have argued two-thirds of all polar bears will be extinct by the year 2030”

    That makes sense, the snow will be gone when two- thirds has melted.

  15. To the above posts knocking the observation that the Earth is flat.
    The motto of the Flat Earth Society is:
    “We are on the level”

  16. “some western scientists have argued two-thirds of all polar bears will be extinct by the year 2030.

    2/3 extinct? Isn’t that like being 2/3 pregnant?….. Either a species is extinct, or it is extant. A woman is pregnant, or she is not.

    It seems “Scientists” are getting dumber. A classical education isn’t what it use to be it would seem.

    • I am a 28y.o. environmental engineer from a prestigious university and I am so dumb when I compare myself to scientists who worked before I was born. Thank God for the internet which has given me far more knowledge and wisdom than the dry repetition of “facts” we get in school, with no philosophy to sharpen our bullshit detectors. And thanks to the WUWT community for helping me improve myself. This article gives indeed perspective, which is probably what the world most needs.

      • I should say that paradoxically computers may also have made us dumber. We no longer have to understand the underlying processes to get our results. We no longer have to manuscript notes. Etc etc and we see also with this article the blind faith we now have in these machines and what little effort we now put into direct observation.

  17. After a beautifully written and reasoned post, Jim concluded: ” I suggest we all could benefit by debating kappiananngittuq style.”

    Is that what we do here at WUWT?

  18. Here is one from 2016:
    https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/climate-change-on-fast-forward-in-arctic-u-of-m-scientist-warns-405091456.html
    **Climate change on fast-forward in Arctic, U of M scientist warns
    A near-catastrophic plunge in the population of ringed seals in Hudson Bay is being blamed on melting sea ice caused by global warming, says a study led by a Manitoba researcher.

    The population has been diminished by 75 per cent since aerial surveys started 20 years ago, according to data that will be presented to the ArcticNet conference of scientists in Winnipeg this week.
    Hudson Bay could experience its first ice-free winter within five to 10 years, Ferguson said**
    The study was not peer reviewed.
    Dr Susan Crockford commented in:
    https://polarbearscience.com/2016/12/07/hudson-bay-could-be-ice-free-in-winter-within-5-10-years-says-seal-researcher/

    After reading the “studies” I think I found what they were doing. They flew transects over parts of western Hudson Bay and counted seals. Then they extrapolated the count to the rest of the area. What happened was that in the latest survey there was more open water so the seals went to an area where there was more ice, so the count dropped drastically and so did the extrapolation. So much for science. I be the natives could have told them that.
    Then in addition Ferguson makes the prediction that Hudson Bay will be ice free in WINTER in 5-10 years. Even Gore could not do that.

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