Bears were described as being most significant in the lives of Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Northern Athapaskan; cultures for whom this was particularly true include Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kitsumkalum, Gitksan (Gitxsan), Upper Nass River Nishga, Mistissini Cree, Southwestern Chippewa (Anishinabek), Shawnee, Fort Nelson Slave (Dene), Lower Thompson (N'laka'pamux), Ottawa [6-10, 20, 21, 23-26, 31-33]. Bear was highly valued by the Ahtna of the Copper River Basin, to whom bear was amongst the most important of big game animals [1, 2]. The Natashquan band of Naskapi (Innu) was so renowned for its pursuit of the animal that it was referred to as the “bear hunting people” . Bear was considered a prized food for the Malecite (Maliseet) [4, 5]. Round Lake Ojibwa (Anishinabek), Montagnais (Innu) of Quebec, Attawapiskat Cree and Mistissini Cree all relied on bear as a principal source of meat; the animal was killed throughout the year [28-30]. Bear was a major food source for Sekani, Inland Tlingit and Kolchan, whose survival during winter depended on hibernating bears [34-40]. While Kootenai occasionally killed bear for food, the animal was sought in late fall in one of “four great hunts” organized by Colville-Okanagan, Coeur d’Alene, Eastern Abenaki and Northern Iroquois [64-68].
The pursuit of bear depended largely on regional, ecological and seasonal fluctuations. Springtime hunting was common for the Naskapi, when they hoped to encounter “the great beast” asleep in his “winter bed” . In deep synchrony with the phases of the moon, Micmac (Mi'kmaq) orchestrated the “great hunt” for game, including bear, from February to mid-March [42, 49]. Inuit deemed the months of March and April ideal for hunting bear, when bears were known to wander up the fjords and bays in search of young seals. They also killed sleeping bears in their hibernation holes in Cape Raper and Cape Kater, Nunavut . Southern Okanagan also sought bear in the hills during these months, when bears first came out of winter dens and were still fat; they continued the hunt into fall . Eyak usually sought bear in early spring or summer; the Montagnais also hunted bear in early spring or summer between Tadoussac and Three-Rivers [14, 28].
In summer, bear was described as rather easy to kill . During berry season, which, depending on the region, usually spanned late summer and into fall, Upper Liard Kaska, Tselona Kaska, Fort Nelson Slave, Mistissini Cree and Waswanipi Cree lay traps and killed the animal in berry patches where it was known to feast on ripening fruit [2, 21, 31, 44, 92, 114]. Fort Nelson Slave would choose the evening to set out towards the berry patch to surprise the animal in the twilight hours . Kutchin (Gwich’in) broke up into small groups of families to hunt and trap bear when they were not fishing during the summer . James Bay Cree sought bear June and July, when it was caught along the river embankments for eighty miles up to the Kanaaupscow River junction .
The “great hunt” of bear was undertaken in fall by Colville-Okanagan . Haida considered October prime time for trapping bear close to camp, while making the most of the opportunity to find them fishing by the rivers and near the sea [12, 13]. In autumn and winter, hibernating bears were taken from their den by Tselona Kaska, Malecite, Mohawk, Wyandot, Eyak and Waswanipi, among others [5, 14, 44, 92, 108]. Mi’kmaq hunted in groups from mid-October to mid-December . Chipewyan, Yellowknife (Dene), Slave (Sahtu), Dogrib, Hare (Sahtu), Nahani (Dene) and Kutchin killed bear mainly during their winter hibernation when the flesh was thought to taste better . Kyuquot men set out in groups to hunt bear in autumn and winter . Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery hunted and trapped bear inland in winter, particularly in December . Potawatomi designated January as “big bear month”, when a hibernating bear could easily be killed by a hunter and his dog; February was known as “baby bear month” . Eastern Abenaki spent the cold months hunting bear; this also applied to the Nemiscau (Cree) of Quebec [67, 96]. Maliseet held a migratory winter hunt specifically for bear, in groups of eight to ten people . Southwestern Chippewa and Ottawa hunters moved further south in winter to hunt for bear [25, 26]. Northern Iroquoian hunting groups “went to the woods to hunt meat”; at mid-winter, they abandoned the village and walked several days into the forest .
Subarctic Indigenous Peoples found bear in its winter den; in spring, the bear was known to emerge from hibernation and travel to the rapids to find fish . Montagnais-Naskapi of the upper St. Lawrence River depended on bear in spring and summer, and found the animal hibernating in winter . The Kolchan relied on hibernating bear in winter; summer was spent hunting bear in the ranges of Alaska .
Bear was considered a part of the ideal seasonal diet of Mohawk and Wyandot; in winter its meat was consumed, while in spring, its oil was appreciated. Bear was the target of planned hunting expeditions from September into early winter; much of the year’s supply of meat and skins were harvested during this period .
Mistissini Cree operated on a two-season annual cycle, one that they claimed was paramount in the lives of the bear, because they were observed to hibernate from the freeze-up period to the break-up period; it also exemplified the “seasonal symbiotic parallel between the social life of men and animals”. Bear was seldom eaten in the winter, though it might have been killed year-round; in spring, it was trapped along the shores of lakes and streams where it had the habit of fishing, or tracked prior to hibernation and its den located in winter [21, 30, 114].
Tlingit flagged bear dens in autumn and winter so they could be easily found in March when they would emerge weakened and easily be overcome. In spring, Tlingit sought bear exclusively for its superior pelt; its flesh was considered poor at this time and therefore tossed to the dogs. It was hunted in reduced capacity in August and September .
Dogrib hunted bear irrespective of the season, as did Waswanipi; the latter, however, hunted more during winter and early summer, when the animal would be drawn to shallow water in search of spawning fish [52, 92].
Tahltan sought bear in the uplands. Ingalik hunted along the Yukon and Kuskokwim river basins; they hunted the animal as an economic activity [2, 38]. The whole of Southwestern Alaska was bountiful with bear; Tanaina of Cook Inlet and Susitna River Basin area hunted them there at all times of the year and in the areas adjacent to the winter villages [2, 22, 40]. Shuswap targeted bear trails and salmon spots, to where bear was lured by the prospect of fish, to set traps and snares . The hunt for bear brought Coast Salish up the river and into the mountains, leading them beyond their normal range .
Anishnabeg (Anishinabek) (Ojibway) hunted in northern and southern areas populated by bear . Ottawa set out in groups of eight to ten men on long distances to hunt bear during winter . Cape York Inuit likewise set out on long bear hunting trips to Melville Bay or up to the north of Humboldt Glacier; while their area lacked these ideal hunting grounds, Inuit of Nordost Bay shot bear in the Umanaq district and sought them amongst the drifting ice floes in the Angmagssalik district . Penobscot sought bear in the forest, while Assiniboine hunted bear throughout their native Plains [98, 100]. Algonquian hunted bear throughout the woodlands, while Plains Bison Hunters sought bear in the Timbered River valleys . In later years, Matabi territory of the Montagnais Naskapi was allegedly more abundant with bear than caribou .
Although bear hunting was predominantly a male occupation – often considered too risky for women – Inuit were reported to have their wives and children on the hunt, and one Mistissini Cree hunting group was reported to have included the wife of the leader, as well as the wife of his son and their infant [28, 81].
Those that hunted bear did so using deadfalls, snares, spears, bows and arrows. The bear hunt was facilitated by the introduction of the rifle, particularly for Dogrib, Thompson, Central Inuit, Waswanipi, Abitibi and Mistissini Cree [32, 52, 82, 92, 94, 114].
Bears were killed using deadfalls, where a strategically balanced, heavy log or rock was triggered by the animal, that then fell on it, pinning or killing it instantly; Shuswap baited deadfalls with salmon, Southern Okanagan with freshly killed deer, and Northern Coast Salish used both [18, 59, 61, 62]. Deadfalls were also used by Coeur d’Alene, Haihais, Bella Bella, Oowekeeno, Nootka of Vancouver Island, Nootka of Cape Flattery, Central and Northern Nootka, Tlingit, Southwestern Coast Salish, Interior Salish, Sub-arctic Indigenous Peoples and Anishnabeg (Ojibway) [10, 11, 15, 16, 33, 41, 62, 66, 84, 102]. The Mistissini secured the bear by equipping the deadfall with a board of slightly protruding nails, designed to pierce the bear’s back and hold it in place .
Carrier relied principally on snares made of twisted babiche . They sometimes erected a wooden platform over which a collapsible roof was built and weighted with rocks. When the bear would mount the baited platform, the roof would collapse trapping the animal . Both deadfalls and snares were used by Dease River Kaska, Northern Athapaskan, Slave, Tahltan, Tanaina, Shuswap, Mistissini Cree, Montagnais Naskapi of the St. Lawrence River, Carrier, Sekani, Haida, Subarctic Indigenous Peoples and Micmac [2, 12, 17, 34, 37, 39, 44, 49, 61, 101, 114].
Many cultures used bow and arrow, which was the principal weapon of choice for Coast Salish and Thule, according to archaeological evidence. Bow and arrow was also used predominantly by Old Bering Sea-Okvik Neo-Eskimo, Eyak, Haida, Huron, Mi’kmaq, and Ottawa, who also used wooden clubs or sophisticated traps [14, 17, 33, 48, 57, 73, 76, 116]. The Nootka hunter of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery waited patiently on a high rock by a bear trail for the opportunity to shoot an arrow into the animal’s heart at close range .
Bear was killed with a lance or spear when driven from its den by Tselona, Haihais, Bella Bella, Peel River Kutchin, Oowekeeno, Dease River Kaska and other Indigenous Peoples of Canada [16, 44, 87]. Inuit deliberately disturbed a hibernating bear by digging it out of the snow; the enraged animal, blinded by the sun, would rush into the flying harpoons or bullets . Tlingit preferred spear that were six to eight feet long with a guard at the base to prevent it from entering the bear’s body too far so the hunter would not be within reach of its claws . Fort Nelson Slave speared or snared bears, performed either by a single hunter or a group .
Waswanipi roused bear from its den and used gun, axe or club. L-hold traps were baited with moose or beaver fat wrapped in paper and doused with, in more recent times, motor oil or naphtha .
Mistissini Cree and Tlingit were reported to use steel traps to secure the bear before shooting it [10, 114]. Traps were set near a river or a berry patch and dried fish and oil were used as bait. It was shot when caught .
Upper Liard Kaska strategically set snares and deadfalls and used arrows, spears and clubs carved from wood or crafted from caribou horn for the kill. A “bear tipi” was constructed as an ambush. The conical structure had an entrance large enough to accommodate the bear and was situated in the bush and baited with animal fat. The hunter waited inside armed with a club to stun or kill the bear. A second bear or cubs may have followed into the ambush .
Bears were also tracked by Southern Okanagan, in well-protected groups of three to five men. They set traps on the trail; the lead hunter, believed to be equipped with a protective power, stalked the animal and shot it, while the others assisted the kill with spears or clubs. After the leader had killed at least two bears, the other men could attempt to do likewise as they were now under the protection of his power .
While Mohawk and Wyandot smoked the animal out of its den to waiting hunters, Colville-Okanagan dragged hibernating bears from their dens or caught them in pitfalls [68, 108]. Shuswap also killed bears in deep pitfalls baited with salmon. While they also used bow and arrow, Shuswap were also accustomed to trapping bears in a camouflaged, shallow pit equipped with a triggered rope-snare. To reach the bait, bears were forced to pass its head through a noose, triggering a six meter pole to spring up, lifting the animal with it; if the bear was of such an impressive size to remain grounded, it would become ensnared in the brush .
Huron were reported to have kept bears in captivity, although it was not a common practice . They captured bears by conducting animal drives through the forest where bears were abundant; four to five-hundred people formed a line whose ends would extend into the river. Noisily, they marched through, frightening the animals into the water, or into the human line and into the path of their arrows. Bears that went into the water would be caught by hunters in canoes. The captured bear was kept in the middle of a house, surrounded by a round enclosure made of ground-driven stakes; here, it may have been fattened with remains of sagamite (a maize stew) for two to three years before it was killed for a feast .
Dogs were used in bear hunting by Upper Liard Kaska, Mohawk and Wyandot, Chilcotin, Coast Salish, Montagnais-Naskapi of the St. Lawrence River, Huron, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tanaina [9, 10, 14, 17, 22, 37, 44, 57, 61, 71, 73, 108]. Bears were useful in tracking, locating hibernating bears or coaxing them out of their den and into range of a hunter .
Waswanipi and Naskapi located the den of a hibernating bear by the telltale yellowing of the snow around its air hole. Once killed from the blow of an axe, the bear would be used in a smoking tradition with the hunters, either with straight tobacco or a pipe made of birch bark inserted into its mouth. The carcass was then transported with a carrying strap made of moose hide [3, 92].
Bear meat was sometimes prepared on the spot prior to returning to camp. The Inuit hunter built a small igloo where he skinned the bear. If the animal was female, he would eat the fat between the intestines, and throw the entrails and meat to the dogs . Carrier consumed bear meat where it was killed – any remainder was dried in preparation for winter, but not before rendering the fat and collecting the liquid grease to be used as a beverage .
Immediately after slaughter, the Mistissini Cree hunter is reported to have excised the stomach, small intestine and a portion of the fat and then sewed the incisions shut. All further dressing was performed on return to camp . There the bear was skinned in the open and butchered inside the lodge. Men were primarily responsible for the dressing, with the occasional guidance or assistance of women; if a young man was responsible for the kill, this task was his, with the supervision of his father. The sternum and stomach fat were excised as one piece, exposing the liver, which was removed. Blood from the pulmonary cavity and heart was collected and preserved. The flank and hind legs were then stripped of fat. Once butchering was complete, the meat was heaped against the back wall of the lodge, with pans arranged carrying the blood, organs and viscera of the animal. This display was for the entire group to admire. Meat would be dried later over a moose-drying rack. Mistissini Cree discarded very little, although none of the intestinal contents were consumed, and the liver seldom used as it was considered a “strong” food . Bear fat was served separately at a feast held following the killing of an adult bear. Although it was reported on one occasion that women were permitted to eat at a second sitting, only men were usually allowed to attend such a feast .
Most commonly, bear flesh was roasted on a spit, boiled or stewed . After skinning a bear, Fort George Cree of Quebec roasted the haunch of bear over a fire; women used bear fat with pemmican prepared from dried, powdered fish . Southern Alaskan and Northern British Columbian Indigenous Peoples were said to postpone the skinning of the bear until most of its flesh had been consumed, allowing the skin to function as preservative and protector of the flesh. Meat was boiled to extract grease, which was skimmed from the surface of the water. This grease was considered a delicacy. Dried fish bits, much like pemmican, were also marinated in bear grease until the right consistency was obtained .
Shuswap removed bear fat by suspending the meat over a fire. Bark trays were strategically positioned to catch the rendered fat, which was stored in deerskin bags . Fort Nelson Slave stored the fat in bark containers to solidify and consumed it with “great relish” .
Upper Liard Kaska boiled bear meat. They believed that the brain had an ill effect on the body and was thus omitted from food preparation. Bear fat was also rendered by a fire; the melted grease removed and combined with snow to form a foamy concoction similar to ice cream. Aside from boiling or sun-drying the meat, Dease River Kaska were described to have a simple recipe for ice cream which omitted snow, using only cranberries or dry soap berries combined with bear grease in a kettle. More recently, sugar was said to be a necessary additional ingredient .
Onondaga boiled bear meat twice (changing the water once) and then removed it from the pot and fried it in grease. The remaining stock was thickened with corn hulls, corn siftings, or whole corn. Alternative methods of preparation included broiling the meat on pointed sticks or drying it on a grate of sticks placed over a fire. The fat was preserved to be used later in cooking . Kwakiutl were also described as having boiled bear meat on occasion. Otherwise, it was roasted and the fat was consumed .
Malecite packed bear meat against the sides of a birch-bark container, which was filled with water and kept boiling with the addition of hot stones. Alternatively, once the flesh of the animal was removed from its bones, bear meat might have been smoked, salted and preserved for longer periods of time . Micmac often smoked bear meat on a rack positioned five feet over a fire. Fat from the back of a bear killed in autumn was a much esteemed food. Once cut from the animal, the fat was placed on a hot, grooved stone and the melting fat was then collected and stored in a bark box or poured into seal bladders and stomachs .
Coast Salish prepared bear meat by roasting, steaming or boiling. They frequently barbecued bear in morsels, whether it was by roasting on spits of ironwood or by raising it on a rack of ironwood suspended over a fire of hot coals. Bear grease was considered a delicacy and a reward for the preparation of the meat; clamshells were placed below the cooking meat to collect the drippings [73, 74]. Penobscot kept cold bear grease in bark vessels and mixed it with maple sap .
Cree, Chipewyan and Métis of Wood Buffalo National Park consumed the fat, stomach and intestines of bear . Dogrib particularly loved bear meat because it was often fat; when not dried, bear flesh was cooked similarly to caribou and moose . Bear was invaluable to Subarctic Indigenous Peoples for the fat it provided . Most of the cooking fats and greases used by Gitksan were derived from bear . In earlier times, Upper Tanana would dry bear meat; later on, it was enjoyed exclusively by the dogs .
Tlingit dried bear meat and ate it fresh . Haida preserved bear meat by smoking and drying, while Central and Northern Nootka never dried the flesh of mammals [13, 102]. Southern Okanagan were described as having disliked the taste of dried bear meat and thus prepared it by roasting it fresh or pounding it fine for pemmican . Kootenai were said to have a “couisine [sic] a la sauvage”, a dish whose main ingredient was “two paws of bear” .
Naskapi also held a feast in honor of the killing of a bear, which all were expected to attend. Food was accompanied by dance, in which they exhibited the respect they had for the spirits of animals sacrificed for their sustenance. Anything other than bear meat was prohibited from being consumed during these feasts. In one specific example, married Naskapi women were observed butchering the carcass. Mounds of meat were piled onto bark trays and placed within reach of all those present. The neck and shoulder meat were divided into twelve slices, six from each side. One of these slices sufficed to feed two men. These were referred to as the “hair bobs of the bear”, figuratively alluding to the hairdo of Montagnais Naskapi women. Women were not permitted to eat the head and no meat was given to dogs. Afterwards, the bones were not discarded but respectfully cast into the fire .
Fat pudding was one of the dishes served at a feast, and was prepared in the following way, as reported by N.A. Comeau in a narrative description of the bear feast of the Montagnais of Godbout:
“About three or four feet of the large intestine is cut off with all the fat adhering to it. A ramrod of thin stick of suitable size is then inserted in the gut and one end tied to it. It is then pulled inside out and cleaned. Berries are sometimes stuffed inside with the fat. The ends are then tied, and the gut put to boil for about an hour, and then laid aside to cool, as it is always eaten cold. It is served up in its full length on a birch-bark platter, and each guest cuts off with his knife whatever length he is able to manage; the more he can stow away the greater being the honor he is paying to his host.” p.106 
Comeau further described the place setting, the absence of utensils other than a knife, and wooden skewers to take pieces of meat from the platter. The only ladle allowed was carved from the mountain ash, “the bear’s favorite tree”. A large steaming bowl of bear grease was served as a first course; according to rank, everyone took turns taking sips of the fat from the ladle. If one were to distinguish himself by taking three or four ladles full of the fat, he was rewarded with applause. The bear’s neck and head, roasted on the spit, was served as a second course; it was passed from one guest to the next. After each guest was privy to a small morsel, they were free to have their choice of roasted, boiled, or stewed meat, or pudding. This bear feast was said to be similar in different groups . Cree of Fort George, Quebec, served bear to the bride and groom at their wedding feast .
Uses other than food
Non-edible raw materials were also derived from bear. In fact, the Southeastern Ojibwa (Anishinabek) occasionally hunted bear exclusively to sell the skin . Naskapi used bear bones as utensils, snowshoe needles and bear awls. Skinning knives were made of the leg bone; spoons carved out of the shoulder blade were used to drink grease during feasts. The canine teeth functioned as toggles, often attached to the end of a thong and used for fastening articles; nearly every hunter kept a few of these teeth .
Mistissini Cree made sleeping mats by stretching the hide out on a frame to dry for two to three days . Whenever bear grease was consumed, Mistissini rubbed a little of it over the hair – it was described as increasing the hair’s blackness and glossiness . Nootka were described to have used bear grease as face paint, a method they used often and one that they were very particular in, layering it one eighth of an inch thick . Carrier used the dried stomach of bear for storage of food and other items . There was mention of bear bone being formerly used by Dogrib to make arrow points, as well as spoons trimmed from the scapula . While Tlingit were described as having found its flesh poor in the early spring, its fur they favored as being in its prime; once scraped and dried, it was ideal for the tailoring of men’s robes or for use as a rug [9, 10].
Those who sought and successfully obtained bear seized the opportunity to exchange its provisions with those who did not. Algonquian hunters would barter bear meat and skins for agricultural foodstuffs with the Huron to their south . Fort Nelson Slave were described as selling meat to white trappers and other white residents . Southeastern Ojibwa marketed bearskins in the middle of the nineteenth century .
Beliefs and taboos
There was no greater criterion of manhood than that of a bear kill, and even more so, that of a grizzly bear. Many groups have their own heroic stories of unassisted kills, myths, taboos and killing ceremonies specifically related to bear [8, 59].
In believing that hunters were “killing creatures with souls akin to [their] own”, Tlingit elevated the purpose of hunting beyond that of mere subsistence, but to the status of a moral and religious occupation. They maintained that bears in particular had the capacity to hear and understand the utterances of man, and for this reason Tlingit hunters did not speak of their intentions. Naskapi also had this belief and custom [3, 9].
When bear tracks were discovered or the animal was dreamt of, the Abitibi hunter would set a trap. He would then prepare himself by entering a small, spherically-shaped sweat lodge, where he would bask in the steam produced by water thrown on heated stones with a pine switch . Southern Okanagan abstained from the hunt of bear while one’s wife was menstruating, believing that, unless he had first sweated, he would be certain of death .
The sweat lodge and bath was an important ceremony for many groups in the formal preparation of the killing of bear, and its association to bear hunting was reported to be most unique to Labrador cultures . The significance of the sweat lodge is best explained in the myth of “Me’jo Talks to Himself”:
“Me’jo always talks to himself. He once went along a small lake and saw beaver tracks. “Oh, what a lot of beaver! I’ll have to eat some.” Finally, he found one asleep on the shore and went up to it. “Ah! a dead one. I’ll roast him.” So he tied his hunting sack to its neck to mark it and went to make a roasting stick.
While he was gone the beaver awoke and jumped up and then dived for the water with the sack. Me’jo saw him and said, “Ah! There’s another beaver. I will get him and then I’ll have two.” But when he saw the beaver with the sack on its neck, he called for him to come back and give him back his sack. But the beaver only laughed and dived, with a whack of his tail. And so’ Me’jo wandered along the shore talking to himself again; soon he saw other tracks. “Ah! Here is a nice one; he is dead.” Then he saw an otter asleep, and went up to it and grabbed it by the chest, feeling to see how fat it was. This tickled the otter and he laughed. “What are you going to do with me?” he asked. “Eat you,” Me’jo answered. Then the otter jumped up and dived into the lake. Then Me’jo went upon the big mountain and suddenly found a bear. The bear jumped up, and Me’jo said, “What are you going to do?” “Eat you,” said the bear. “Oh! Wait awhile. Don’t do that yet. I came here to play, so let’s do it first.” The bear agreed to this. So Me’jo built a cabin for a sweat lodge and heated stones to put into it. The he entered the sweat lodge and showed the bear where to go. Said he to the bear, “Here is where I sit, and you sit there.”
So they went in and Me’jo began singing. The stones threw off great heat. Soon the bear was overcome with the heat and fell over dead. Then Me’jo cooked him and got his meal. (This is the origin of the sweat lodge which is used among the Montagnais to call the bears so that they can be killed.)” p. 98-99 
The “magic influence” of the sweat lodge was faithfully sought by Naskapi in places where game was scarce and bear would thus become a staple of their food supply .
Coast Salish and Gulf of Georgia Salish sometimes had a ceremonial preparation for the hunt of bear . For an entire month during spring, the Coast Salish hunter would train by steaming himself everyday at dawn, a practice that was forbidden after mid-day. He would then descend into the cold water of a nearby creek; with branches of hemlock dipped with seawater, he first cleansed the right side of his body, followed by his left, in a regimen of self-purification. Once the training period had elapsed, the hunter set out for his quarry, but not before privately painting his face according to the way his “power” or spirit helper inspired him; his embellished features were not meant to be seen by anyone, and if such encounters were unavoidable, he would wipe his face of the paint. If the bear was discovered to be hibernating, the hunter would smoke the animal from its den and kill it; should he have been unsuccessful, he was to repeat the required self-cleansing regimen with cedar branches, rendering his body raw. One chief and his family proclaimed the power of song and rattle to bewilder bear. Once killed, the pelt and head was left intact and draped over a “slanting pole facing east”, to which Coast Salish offered a song, flattery and requests for good luck. The head was not eaten, but sprinkled with down and placed in the fork of a tree. Salish believed that bear was very near to human, if not once human itself; it was reported that some individuals among the group refrained from consuming bear because it was like a man [73, 85].
Montagnais and Mistissini used hunting charms for the bear hunt. These nimaban were made from the tanned skin of moose and took the form and symbolism of a pack-strap; it would often display a scene in which a hunter (armed with an axe) and a bear (attempting to make its way to a lake) were depicted. A hunter whose revelation promised future game would wear this “magical object”, carrying it with him on the hunting trail; when he obtained game, thus fulfilling the revelation, he would wrap it with the nimaban and return home. The hunting charm was to be worn in secret: to show it would strip it of its power to ward off starvation .
If an encounter with a bear became threatening, it would be explained why it must die at the hands of the Abitibi hunter, who would ask him to stop the attack. Once it offered itself to the mercy of the hunter, tobacco was given to the bear .
Although Mistissini Cree held the killing of bear in high esteem, the open expression of emotion was forbidden – the hunter revealed slowly, through non-verbal means, what was caught and refrained from prideful boasting . Peel River Kutchin similarly practiced discretion. It was reported that when a man discovers a bear hole, he kills the bear but tells no one. Later he may be seen to put a little hair in the fire whereupon some smart old man would say, “Oh, I know you found a bear hole.” 
Waswanipi considered bear such a powerful beast that it was mostly killed by distinguished men who had “started thinking”, or under the supervision of such men . The Inuit hunter observed the fall of a bear with silence, remaining quiet “in like manner” for three days .The Inuit woman bestowed thanksgiving to the bear by smearing its blood over her face . Malecite honored the slain beast by placing it in the wigwam, outside of which an old woman and a captive would shake both hands and body in dance accompanied by song: wegage oh nelo who, which meant “Fat is my eating” . Haida were adamant that a special song be sung in honor of the bear; to forego such rites would gravely offend the Bear People, for whom the natives had the utmost respect .
The bear ceremony was an important one for some groups . Colville-Okanagan engaged in bear ceremonialism and ritual feasting. They sang special songs as they skinned it, marked its head with charcoal and displayed it in a tree. Its feet, as well as the “gristle found under the bear’s tongue”, were returned to the woods . Huron and Southern Chippewa also held a special feast or ceremony after the successful hunt of bear, while Assiniboine, Rapid, Cree, Blackfoot and Carrier held feasts of bear in remembrance of their dead relatives [26, 71, 100].
Indigenous Peoples of the North shared bear meat with the whole camp . The meat was most often consumed at a feast held in honor of the killing of an adult bear . While the feast was being prepared, Abitibi hunters smoked tobacco; during the feast, they praised the hunter who successfully killed the bear and sang special songs. Part of the bear tongue was placed on the cradle-board of a baby for luck .
Bear feasts were commonly associated with gender-specific roles, and in some accounts, Mistissini Cree women were not permitted to attend at all, though, as mentioned before, they were observed on one account to take part in a second sitting. Meal observances and disposal of parts applied most strictly to bear. The parts of the animal believed to convey honor, such as the head, were served during a first course to adult male hunters and shared by those most deemed worthy of such distinction. Certain portions of the animal were either dubbed the “man’s food”, or that of woman: the former consisted of its front limbs and feet, believed to contain the animal’s strength and therefore suited to man, “the stronger of the two sexes”; the latter, its rear limbs and feet, because the woman “stayed behind” . Women were reported as being forbidden in any circumstance to eat from the head or its anterior limbs . The man ate the forearms because this was also believed to draw his future shots to the front of the animal and not fall behind, as when the animal is mobile and less likely to be taken. It was feared that anyone who ate of the food restricted to the opposite sex would become ill, and experience bodily pain emanating from the corresponding part of the animal that was consumed. Fat was smeared on the walls, doorpost, and guns, and was cast into the fire as an offering to bear; the rendered bear fat held symbolic significance, particularly during the winter feast, being “thus presented both to the spirits outside the dwelling, and to the domestic spirits and those of the hunting equipment.” Mistissini Cree told the tale of “The Boy who was kept by a Bear”, in which a bear graciously offered the gift of his forelimbs to the young native he had sheltered for some time, when the boy’s father appeared to claim his son – he was promised success in locating bear dens so long as he kept the bear’s gift enclosed. It was said that it would displease the bear to have his forelegs cooked and served alongside the rest of its meat; a hunter who failed in this would surely be attacked by a bear. A practice therefore followed of wrapping the forelegs of the bear, after it is eaten, in birch bark or cloth and tying the parcel to a tree [30, 114]. Only the old men of the Chipewyan would brave the consumption of bear’s feet, those of which young men feared would make them slow . Gitksan even forbade young boys from eating the legs of bear . Women were forbidden to eat bear at all among Upper Tanana . Southern Okanagan believed in bear power, and that a person possessing such power could not eat the part of bear that was his power, whether it was the heart, the leg or anything else .
When a bear was brought into the Southern Okanagan camp, the people sang a special song; its carcass was not reported to have received any further ceremonial treatment. Ritual use and disposal were ascribed, however, to skeletal and other bear remains. The Southern Okanagan hung a bear skull, unpainted, on a forked tree that was neither cut nor marked. The remaining bones were respectfully put to rest in the creek . The skull was highly significant to Naskapi and picked clean of flesh; if bear was killed in the fall, its skull would be carried all winter until the spring, when it was set on a flagpole fashioned from peeled fir tree . Its skull would be salvaged by Mistissini Cree and sometimes painted red with designs; it was skewered onto a stick attached to a tree facing east, in late spring prior to the hunting group’s return to their summer camp . The centre post of the Algonquian and Iroquoian longhouse, over which the bearskin was draped, served as the place where its skull was set following sacred song and dance . Skeletal components were used in divination; the patella was used to forecast the outcome of a future hunt, while eastern Naskapi used the scapula in burnt divination . The amulet, a small bone found beneath the bear’s tongue, was preserved by the Salish bear hunter, alongside a few gray occipital hairs – these charms were thought to facilitate the subsequent bear hunt . The skin from bear chin was crafted into a charm by Mistissini Cree women belonging to the hunting group; it was said to represent the animal in its reconstituted form and was presented to the hunter who had slain the beast . While a hunter was thought to have at least one in their possession, some men were reported to have kept “every chin of every bear they [had] ever shot” .
The tools and clothing of the Algonquian and Iroquoian were adorned with bear designs. They believed that the Great Keeper, who presided over all animals, was half-human and half-animal, particularly half-bear. They told stories of the betrothal of humans and animals, neither of which was cognizant of the other’s species. The sight of the Great White Bear, believed to be the Master of Animals, in the forest would signify a terrible omen. The Great White Bear tended to the animals, ushering them from their hunting grounds should they be treated disrespectfully, and wielded the power to orchestrate an “accident” that would lead to a hunter’s untimely demise. They were therefore spared by the forest Indigenous Peoples unless a desperate need arose, and then, with the greatest of prudence. Particularly if one was among the Members of the Bear clan, bear meat may have been refused to protect the animal that served as their totem, from harm. A ceremony was held with the whole tribe to acknowledge the emergence of bear from hibernation; in the eastern forests, it was given a particularly prominent role in the celebrations. Bear was revered as a powerful animal with an appearance likened to man; for this reason it received more profound ceremonial treatment, as well as being addressed with titles intended to convey honor and an established relationship, being referred to in some instances as “my paternal uncle”. Bear was brought through a special door into the wigwam. In some instances the bear demonstrated its willingness through a warrior’s revelation; the bear would subsequently be sought by twelve chosen hunters and sacrificed at the door of the longhouse. Bear flesh was ceremoniously consumed during the Dark Dance of the Iroquois, an autumn hunting feast partaken by both people and animal spirits .
Bear held a prominent role in Montagnais-Naskapi ethnology, where its religious position was ranked first, with respect to ceremonialism. The rationale was, provided that their game’s food was vegetal in nature and hence, the source of medicinal properties, these would also be provided through the diet to man. They thus perceived their dietary intake as “taking medicine”, a diet deemed “prophylactic to mankind.” Naskapi’s formal practices tied to the reverie, the hunt and the killing of bear were said to be the “closest thing to a religious institution” . Believing that “every bear [was] a chief himself”, Naskapi further theorized of “his supremacy over other beasts by virtue of his human physical characteristics and his almost human intelligence.” The term used for bear was “black food”, so as not to announce to its spirit that it was being spoken of; his location would be disclosed to the hunter through dreams. Taboos permeated many customs; for instance, young, unmarried women were forbidden from looking upon the bear’s carcass, which they dubbed the “great food”; deemed unworthy and not respectable, they risked infirmity “on account of having insulted him” with their gaze. While only married women were permitted to skin the bear, only men were allowed to butcher him and only the oldest men could eat the head. There was protocol as to how the bear body was to be disassembled: his tail was to be left attached to the body, “lest he be insulted”. His right arm and paw were to be left intact, cooked before the fire and consumed by only the oldest man in the camp. During preparation, some bear meat and a spoonful of its grease would be cast into the fire; the Montagnais Naskapi hunter resorted to drinking bear grease to nourish his Mista’peo, or “great man” in hopes that he would be given temporal and geographical direction as to future location of bear [3, 91]. Only men were permitted to eat heart and to pick the flesh off the bones of the legs; to do so by a woman would mean debilitating pain in the corresponding region. It was considered improper to eat bear outdoors – even mastication of its meat outside the tent was frowned upon. Its nose was plugged with tobacco. To satisfy the “one who owns the chin”, this and his lower lip were cleaned and adorned with beads. The tongue sinew of bear, which was worm-like in appearance, was dried and attached to the end of the dried chin “so that it [would] look very pretty”; this, they preserved in a container made of birch bark to ensure his “satisfaction when he [remembered] his chin and tongue” .
Bear ceremonialism was highly developed in Labrador. Frank G. Speck depicted the reverence with which the Naskapi hunted bear:
“The inner self or spiritual element of the bear is one of great power and influence among the spirits of animals. It has control over them much as the physical bear is their superior in respect to strength and sagacity. His soul-spirit knows especially when the hunters are on his trail, and so he does what he thinks best to do in order to save himself or else he allows himself to be overtaken and killed.” p. 97 .
A common belief among Naskapi was that a pregnant female bear was never killed, or perhaps more precisely, that she was never pregnant at the time of her death; it followed that she knew her fate in advance and would “pass off” her embryo, or simply refuse to be taken, evading the hunters and having her cubs. This self-preservation was exemplified in the narrative of hunters who, having come upon a “fresh bear spoor”, were led to quick sand where the female bear, refusing to be taken, had dove in and evaded capture . During the hunt, Ottawa also believed that bear could change form and evade capture .
Onondaga (Iroquois) held feasts where they offered bear to “Aireskoui”, the Sun, also known as the god of war; this was believed to secure success in war or hunting, as well as to ensure the “satisfactory interpretation of dreams and the recovery of the sick”. They consequently preserved the rendered oil of bear for its medicinal properties; it was believed to provide relief from cramps by rubbing it on the back and chest and was also applied topically to newly-born infants .
Among “all the creatures of the wild”, Inuit considered bear “second only to man himself,” and manifested the utmost respect for the animal’s intelligence, cunning and strength. They were eager to secure as their tongak, or guardian, the spirit of bear, and believed that bear himself had a tongak, distinct from his soul. The tongak lured bear to the hunter when the spirit of bear necessitated a novel commodity, whether it was a “new seal warp or line, represented by black skin round the mouth of its protégé.” The hunter, as an offering to this spirit, would circumvent the cutting of this black skin when dressing the carcass. Furthermore, parts of the carcass would be displayed on a stake or spear, flanked by the hunter’s knife if it were a male, a needle or skin scraper if it were female. For three days this offering would remain untouched, after which it was surrendered to the sea .
Naskapi gave bear the name “Short Tail”, an epithet whose origin requires no elucidation . The Algonquin, who believed that once “all the bears had big long tails”, explained the current shortness of the tail of the bear through fable; briefly, it told of a hungry bear that clumsily followed the advice of a fox. To avoid being himself the bear’s prey, the sly fox dispensed advice on how to catch fish by passing the tail through the ice – the bear left his in too long and it froze and dropped off .
When picking berries in the bush, the women of the Vanta Kutchin kept bears at bay by announcing their presence through singing and boisterous chatter. If an unarmed man encountered a bear in the bush, it would be in his best interest to remain perfectly motionless, as the theory is that the eyesight of a bear is poor and his memory even poorer; although the animal may catch sight of a moving object, once it becomes stationary the bear soon finds it indistinguishable, or forgets having seen it at all. Stories of the Vanta Kutchin include those of bears found in caves, and that of a woman who killed a bear who wandered into her tent by fitting its head through the hollow section of a burning spruce log. A local legend once acknowledged the cunningness of the bear that waded into the river before attacking a winter camp in very cold weather; its waterlogged coat froze into protective armor, shielding it against arrows .
Many cultures are reported to have used deadfalls to trap and kill black bear. Deadfalls were usually heavy tree trunks weighted with logs or stones and baited with fish or meat. Cultures reported to have used this technique include Stalo , Eyak , Southeast Alaska Indigenous Peoples , Haisla , Kalispel , Ahtna , Coast Salish [150, 177, 178], Straits Salish – especially Semiahmoo and Saanich , Lillooet , Northern Athapaskan  Tahltan [2, 124], Tanaina , Tlingit [10, 140], Tutchone , Beaver , Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) , Yukon Indigenous Peoples [167, 168], Montagnais and Lake Melville (Innu) , Thompson (N'laka'pamux) , Kaska  and Southern Okanagan .
Alternatively, bears were captured in pitfalls, made by digging a hole in a game trail and covering the hole with sticks, bark and earth, which gave way under the weight of the animal. Some cultures reported to have used pitfalls include Stalo , Eyak  and Tutchone .
Bow and arrow was used by Beaver , Nootka , Squamish , Northern Athapaskan , Thompson , Spokane , Central Coast Salish , Straits Salish [148, 149], Stalo , Yukon Indigenous Peoples  and Tahltan . Lillooet shot arrows from platforms made of poles and cedar bark constructed in trees ; Nootka waited on a high rock elevation by trails . Semiahmoo hunters used arrows with stone heads and detachable foreshafts . Eyak of Alaska used automatic bows that would be triggered by the movement of the animal as it moved along the trail .
Spokane , Southeast Alaska Indigenous Peoples , Yukon Indigenous Peoples [167, 168], Stalo , Tahltan  and Eyak  used spears. Ahtna used spears fitted with copper blades ; Tutchone used stout spears with heads of copper or bone ; Tlingit used spears made of bone or shell fastened to a long handle . Eyak hunters would spear the bear as it emerged from its den, or would set up spears in the ground around the opening so that when the hunter teased the bear out of its den, it would be impaled on the spears .
Snares were often set on trails and attached to tossing poles. Cultures reported using snares include Tahltan [123, 124], Yukon Indigenous Peoples , Tanaina , Ahtna , Southern Coast Salish . Hare (Sahtu) used twisted babiche snares consisting of a noose suspended from a crossbar of dried wood and baited with willow smeared with honey . Yukon Indigenous Peoples used twisted babiche snares baited with caribou or moose meat; if the snare was broken by the bear, it was believed to bring death to the trapper’s family . Kaska also used snares made of braided babiche . Athapaskan Slave used babiche snares in berry patches in summer .
Other techniques cited include spring traps used by Coast Salish , rope nooses, which Lillooet set up on bear trails  and babiche nets used by Northern Athapaskan . Southern Tutchone and Tagish sometimes killed bear in close combat with heavy clubs made of moose or caribou antler ; Chilcotin also used clubs .
When guns were acquired, they were used in hunting black bear by some cultures including Beaver , Montagnais and Lake Melville , Hare  and Yukon Indigenous Peoples . Chalkyitsik Kutchin (Gwich’in) of Alaska carried rifles/shotguns with them at all times (particularly between April and June) in case they encountered a bear .
Some cultures sought out hibernating bears in their dens because 1) bear flesh was often considered best during winter or at the end of hibernation and 2) bears were not as dangerous when they emerged from their drowsy hibernating state. Chilcotin clubbed black bear at the entrance of the den . Stalo would spear the bear at the entrance of the den . Kalispel coaxed the hibernating bear to appear at the den entrance and then shot it with bow and arrow . Straits Salish would seek out bear dens by looking for frost holes caused by bear’s breath and then coax the bear out of the den by prodding it with a stick . Hare , Central Coast Salish , Straits Salish  and Spokane  forced a hibernating bear out of its den with smoke. According to Koyukon, bear hibernation holes, if found, were considered to be privately owned and were not shared communally . If a Yukon man found a den in winter, he would return with other hunters in spring to coax it out of its den; the hunter would use a spear (made of bone, antler or copper) or a club (made of moose or caribou antler soaked in grease to add weight) . While in transit, the Beaver sometimes happened upon dens in winter, a welcome discovery for starving travellers .
Usually men hunted bear in groups of two or more people, however Plains Ojibwa (Chippewa) stalked bears alone on foot and killed them with arrow, bullet or spear . Also unique were the Okanagan who prepared for the hunt by removing their own scent in a sweat lodge  and Southern Okanagan thought it dangerous for a hunter to hunt bear if his wife were menstruating unless he attended a sweat lodge prior to hunting .
Some cultures used dogs to hunt bears. For example, Coast Salish used small coyote-like dogs to harass bears and drive them into the water, allowing easier access by hunters . Tahltan bear dogs were useful for keeping bears at bay until they could be speared or shot with bow and arrow; in winter, dogs located hibernating holes and were useful in enticing bears out of their dens [123, 124, 168]. Tlingit  and Eyak  also used dogs in winter to locate bear dens. Stalo  and Lillooet [119, 122] used bear-hunting dogs to chase bears in order to tire them out. Chalkyitsik Kutchin of Alaska kept dogs to warn the group of approaching bears .
Different cultures hunted black bear at different times of the year. Decisions as to when bears would be hunted was influenced by 1) ease of hunting (related to the bear’s seasonal habits and energy levels regarding hibernation), 2) flavor of bear flesh (affected by bear’s seasonal diet) and 3) fat content of bear flesh (higher late fall to early spring).
1) Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Conne River hunted black bear in fall when the animal was easily seen feeding on ripened berries  and in spring when it emerged from its sleepy hibernating state . Tlingit hunted in August (using deadfalls) and September (when bear were catching salmon) . In summer, Tlingit waited in twilight for bear to descend from mountains to forest meadows; in fall, bear was found by streams as they fished for salmon . Southern Tutchone would wait in late summer at twilight by a creek . The Montagnais and Lake Melville hunted in May and June when bears were out of hibernation and mobile and thus easier to spot .
2) Coast and Straits Salish enjoyed bear meat most in summer (when bear ate crabapples and berries) and in fall (when bear ate salmon); they avoided bear both in early spring (when the animal ate skunk cabbage) and in August (when bear ate ants) [148, 149, 151]. Spokane also avoided bear meat when bears ate skunk cabbage and red ants . Han considered meat in fall the best because bear fed on huckleberries during that time . Chalkyitsik Kutchin considered bears that ate roots and berries very tasty, but did not enjoy those that ate mainly fish or goosegrass (Equisetum) during summer months .
3) Bear fat content was an important and desirable aspect of bear. The animal tended to have higher fat content prior to hibernation (mid-August – November), during and at the end of hibernation (April – June). Lillooet and Shuswap hunted black bear mostly in the fall for this reason . Southern Okanagan of Washington hunted bear mostly in March and April, however bear were known to be hunted from spring to fall . Chalkyitsik Kutchin hunted mostly in fall . Nootka hunted bear in December . Eyak hunted bear in winter . Dene consumed black bear mostly during the winter and spring months . Naskapi (Innu)  and Western Abenaki  hunted bear in late spring.
Although some cultures would pursue bear only if they happened to stumble upon them, Han would attract bear by producing a raven call, to make bears think that a raven had discovered a dead moose – once near, the bear would be speared .
Black bear meat was boiled, fried, roasted or dried. Chalkyitsik Kutchin boiled or fried the meat – fat, young animals were especially enjoyed . Coast Salish usually barbecued bear meat on iron wood spits . Southern Okanagan roasted bear . Tahltan roasted the head over a campfire; the feet were boiled in pits in the ground lined with birch or spruce bark . Upper Lillooet preserved meat for winter by drying it in the sun or smoking it . Tlingit , Spokane  and Puget Sound  also dried the meat. Tahltan dried bear flesh on poles over a campfire . Micmac of Conne River preserved meat by smoking, drying or boiling in salt water; all parts of the bear were consumed except for the liver . Southern Okanagan pounded the meat into pemmican .
Also common was the preserving of bear fat. Micmac of Conne River rendered the fat to be used like butter: the bear would be skinned, the fat cut into small strips and then put into a boiler. The resulting fat would sometimes be poured into birch containers . Tahltan also rendered fat to be stored for winter use . Carrier laid strips of bear fat over a fire – the grease collected was used to seal surplus meat that was preserved in boxes or baskets . Coast Salish caught bear grease in clam shells below meat while it was being cooked – the grease was used as a spread with other foods . Eastmain Cree considered bear grease a delicacy and kept it in caribou stomach or a birchbark container . Tahltan often mixed bear fat with berries gathered in late summer/early fall . To store fat, Lillooet and Shuswap kept fresh bear fat in a deerskin sack or melted the fat in a wood or stone dish in front of a fire .
Uses other than food
Black bear pelt was used for a variety of purposes. For example, Chalkyitsik Kutchin , Hare , Tahltan , Coast Salish  and Carrier  used the pelt for bedding. Squamish used it for blankets  and Carrier used it to make rugs . Chalkyitsik Kutchin made insulation around doors . Tlingit , Coast Salish [74, 150] used skins to make robes and Kutenai  and Haisla  made moccasins. Okanagan  and Tahltan  stretched bear skins into rugs. Puget Sound People used the skin for robes and arrow quivers . Chalkyitsik Kutchin , Tlingit , Straits Salish , Yukon Indigenous Peoples  and Puget Sound Indigenous People  sold skins to traders. Indeed, Yukon Indigenous Peoples began hunting bear for skin when there became a demand from white people .
Other parts of the bear were used for non-edible purposes. The teeth were used by some cultures. For example, Micmac at Richibucto  and Coast Salish  made jewelry. In addition to jewelry, Tahltan made tools and headdresses [123, 124]. Tlingit shaman wore a bear tooth around the neck to ward off illness . Bear bones were used to make tools such as knives by cultures including Squamish , Coast Salish , Tahltan  and Carrier . Some cultures, such as Coast Salish , used bear claws as ornaments. Tahltan used them for headdresses and necklaces . Carrier used sinews for cord or thread . Bear fat was used by Chipewyan as a pomade for hair . Spokane used bear fat for burns and to make soaps and utensil lubricants . Straits Salish used bear grease as a cosmetic .
Beliefs and taboos
Many cultures had strong spiritual beliefs regarding black bear and some developed rituals around the bear hunt. Micmac believed black bear possessed great magical powers . The Montagnais and Lake Melville would hold a makoshan, a banquet to honour the animal’s spirit . Hare performed a ceremonial dance after the slaughter of a bear . Squamish believed that two conditions must be met in order for a person to hunt a black bear: the person must 1) have special powers from a spirit helper and 2) participate in ceremonial purification which included standing in a cold creek and scrubbing the body with hemlock branches every day for one month. After the bear was killed, Squamish believed that the hunter was obligated to bury its insides in order to avoid the disappearance of all bears from the hunting area . Because Yukon Indigenous Peoples believed black bear had great spiritual powers , they were said to avoid saying anything offensive about bears for fear that a bear would overhear and take revenge on them during the next hunting trip . In addition, the head and body were handled in a particular manner in order to honor the animal because they feared the spirit power of the bear; some individuals did not consume bear meat or grease at all because of this perceived spirit power . Ahtna believed all bears possessed great spiritual powers and therefore developed many rituals around the bear hunt and they did not feed bear to babies because of the spiritual powers . A successful Spokane bear hunter would sing a bear death song and observed three days of dietary rituals to avoid dreaming of the bear or being burned by fire or being struck by lightning . Some cultures thought that the spirit of the animal remains in the flesh for a certain period after death. For this reason, Gitksan (Gitxsan) avoided consumption of fresh bear meat. Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en told a story of a bear that taught a starving family rituals to guarantee hunting success and then offered its own flesh to the family . Menstruating women were forbidden to eat the fresh meat by some cultures including Salish (Fraser River Valley)  and Inland Tlingit . Salish (Fraser River Valley) believed that some people could possess the súlia (spirit) of an animal. Salish believed that permission was required from the person who possessed the bear spirit so that they could consume the liver, heart, kidneys or spinal cord of the bear . Straits Salish were reported to have believed that certain “spell words” were essential to hunters in order to avoid being mauled by the bear and incantations/songs were reported to have been used on wounded bears so that the bear would not attack the hunter . Southern Okanagan believed that a person could have “bear power” and that those with “bear power” related to a certain body part could not consume the portion of the bear that was related to his power. Also, mocking a bear would lead to a person being killed by a bear during the next hunt. Southern Okanagan sang a special song when the killed bear was carried to the camp and when it was being butchered . Although Tlingit did kill black bear when necessary, the animal was considered to be related to man  and it was reported that the Straits Salish referred to the black bear as “grandparent” while hunting the animal .
To Indigenous People of the Arctic, polar bear was one of the most iconic of arctic animals . It provided both food and material goods for communities throughout Alaska, Northern Canada and Greenland. The bear was considered a secondary staple food for both the inland and coastal Inuit with the skins being used as well .
It is reported that polar bear was readily hunted by Inupiat (of Kotzebue Sound, Point Lay and Wainwright) and Inuit (of Baffinland, Victoria Island, Clyde and Quebec) for food and material resources [116, 198, 200-203]. For Clyde Inuit from Aqviqtiuk and Clyde River, polar bear was a major food source while some cultures along the Bering Strait hunted polar bear for sport [203, 204]. Omushkego Cree, Inupiat (of Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Barrow and Kaktovik), Inuit (of Greenland, Devon Island, Belcher Island, Northern Hudson Bay, Qikiqtarjuaq [formerly Broughton Island], and Labrador Coast) and Yupik of St. Lawrence Island are reported to have occasionally relied on polar bear as a food source [54, 116, 131, 160, 198, 202, 205-210]. Netsilik Inuit used polar bear for food and clothing if caribou was unavailable [211, 212]. Polar bear was reported to have been rare for West Greenlanders, but was a desirable species to hunt when available [130, 213, 214].
Cultures of Canada, Alaska and Greenland hunted polar bear during winter months (October to May) [199, 202]. Generally, polar bears moved with the sea ice and was rarely seen during summer months when floes of ice were dispersed; the best time to hunt polar bear, for all communities, was before the ice melted .
Clyde Inuit generally hunted polar bear October to December and March to May because of the concentrated number of bears on the inshore ice areas. Polar bears denned in fall to early winter, making them vulnerable to those who knew the den locations. In late winter and early spring, bears congregated around seal pupping areas, again making themselves more accessible to hunters . It is reported that Wainwright Inupiat were one of few cultures to hunt polar bear in summer, however the most important month for them was March when the bears migrated northward [202, 216]. For cultures hunting polar bear mainly for the hide, it was best to do so during winter months when the fur was white and cleaner compared to summer months .
Polar bear was found throughout the Arctic along the coastline and on the drift ice. They were considered amphibious mammals because they were land animals but had more of an aquatic mode of life . They were generally killed either on the sea ice or in their dens; however, a polar bear was occasionally killed in or near a village when scavenging for food . The bear’s main source of food was seal which was readily caught at the water’s edge . The polar bear preferred regions of greatest ice movement and were rarely caught in sheltered sounds or inlets .
Access to polar bear was affected by ice conditions and weather. For certain cultures such as James Bay Cree, it was difficult to access the animal . Cumberland Sound Inuit were affected by tidal currents and ice conditions, which influenced the location of the bears . Clyde Inuit were influenced by the weather: as it got colder and more ice began to form, bears would disperse along the coast . In general, the polar bear stayed away from humans; however, in times of starvation it would approach villages in search of food, increasing the chances of being killed .
Indigenous People of the Arctic used few hunting methods to hunt polar bears. Essentially, the hunters and/or their dogs would surround the bear until they killed it with lances, harpoons, knives, rifles or other weapons available [215, 217]. Although men were responsible for hunting and killing large bears, if women were present at a chance encounter, they too would participate .
Rarely would a single man attack a polar bear; however, if two men were present and armed with lances they would not hesitate. In this case, the two men would approach the bear at the same time, one on either side; as the bear charged one of the men the other would rush in and wound it with his lance. This method required calm, confident hunters. On the rare occasion, a hunter would attack a polar bear in the water. This was not common because the polar bear is extremely agile in the water, making them difficult to overtake .
When tracking polar bear, the hunter would typically search for its trail, as the bear tended to follow the same path. Hunters would travel great distances by snowmobiles or dog teams, depending on what was available to them. Both methods of transport had their advantages and disadvantages: dogs were able to smell a bear before it was sighted, but a greater distance could be traveled, in a shorter period of time, by snowmobile . If a bear entered a village, it would be surrounded and shot. If an animal was encountered away from the village, dogs, men and women would all pursue the bear and keep it at bay until it was killed .
On extended polar bear hunts, sleds were required for transporting gear and kills . Netsilik Inuit used bow and arrow, which wounded the animal, but did not kill it. They had three main tools for cutting, scraping and piercing the large mammals: the man’s knife, the snow knife and the woman’s knife . Neo-Eskimo Thule used tools such as lance blades, barbed slate knives and harpoons with a wide variety of antler, ivory and bone heads . Baffinland Inuit used harpoons with heavy wooden handles, ivory foreshafts and detachable heads and cultures of the Bering Strait used barbed harpoon dart heads . Dorset Inuit hunted land animals with a lance made of a bone foreshaft and open-socketed heads while Inupiat used different lance heads chipped from stone . In general, Arctic cultures killed polar bears with whatever weapons they had available including lances/spears, knives, harpoons and later rifles .
For both Clyde and Netsilik Inuit, the eldest hunter was known as the headman who selected and organized the hunting sites, where they often knew the whereabouts of the denning polar bears [203, 212]. When Netsilik hunted polar bears, they would drive the bears out of their dens with a spear and the dogs would keep the bear at bay until the hunters, with the arrows, spears and the barbless harpoons were ready for the kill . It was only a moderate cash expense for Nuiqsut to hunt polar bear and they generally did so in groups by boat or snowmobile . Aqviqtiuk Inuit were known to do early season hunting in the fiords, and late winter hunting was done out on the rough ice when the bears moved out . On occasion, Wainwright Inupiat would use walrus meat bait and the hunters would camp up to a week in hopes of killing a bear . Iglulik Inuit used dogs to keep polar bears at bay or set stone bear traps . Pre-Dorset hunted polar bear with hand held lances and dogs . One of the few Arctic cultures that hunted polar bear alone was Inuit of Quebec. They would attack them with a lance or knife after the dogs had immobilized the animal . The number of Copper Inuit that hunted on their own rather than in groups increased due to acquisition of guns and snowmobiles and easier communication through radios .
For Copper Inuit there were laws against hunting and trapping unless it was strictly for subsistence hunting . Omushkego Cree believed that hunting involved a great deal more than the material aspect of life and believed “the right conduct of hunting” increased the productivity of animal populations .
Inuit men did the skinning and women did the cooking. If the animal was in the hut or tent, the woman would take part in the skinning, but if it was at the kill site it was the man’s responsibility to skin the bear and cache the meat . Inuit used simple methods of cooking polar bear which included boiling, drying, freezing or fermenting .
Raw polar bear was generally avoided because of the possibility of trichinosis, the infestation of round worm larvae, which was found in half of all bears [190, 220]. Polar bear liver was also avoided by humans and dogs because it contains excessive amounts of vitamin A, causing hypervitaminosis A if ingested, a toxic condition resulting in severe illness or death [54, 216]. This poisoning was said to “make one’s skin peel off”, but in times of starvation, Arctic Inuit consumed it regardless of the risks involved [199, 224].
The preferred method of preparing the flesh was boiling, generally in a stone pot over a fire . Inuit of Belcher Island and Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island) ate equal amounts of bear meat and fat [210, 225]. The skin was removed from the bear and used for other purposes while everything else, apart from the liver, was eaten .
Cultures of the far North skinned the polar bear’s skin as a whole . Belcher Island Inuit, on the other hand, skinned the bear in a fashion that was said to look human in shape. For this reason as well as the bear’s strong odor, Belcher Island Inuit rated polar bear as the least favorite traditional food . Wainwright Inupiat found polar bear meat to be delicious, but again it was never eaten raw because of the potential parasites it carried .
Northern Hudson Bay Inuit usually ate the meat frozen, occasionally roasted, but never fried . St. Lawrence Island Yupik ate polar bear meat boiled, dried or “sour”: they kept the meat underground in caches where it decomposed and became “sour” . Inupiat of Point Hope also used subterranean caches, but more as a natural deep-freeze . Inuit of Devon Island usually ate the yearling male; they ate the rump meat with no bone and very little fat . The women of Baffin Island and Hudson Bay never ate the tongues of polar bears or any other animal .
Inuit, when having a feast, would separate the fat from the skin and cut it into long strips so it could be swallowed (not chewed) . A Cree bride and groom in Fort George were reported to eat polar bear meat at their wedding feast .
Polar bear meat contributed an important amount of omega-3 fatty acid to the diet. High levels of omega-3 fatty acids (22:5ω3 and 22:6ω3) found in polar bears was a reflection of the transfer of fatty acids through the food chain from seal pups to polar bears .
The vitamin C content in raw meat was higher than in cooked meat; however polar bear meat was most often eaten in the cooked form . Greenland Inuit found that by quickly freezing the meat a sufficient amount of vitamin C was retained. This antiscorbutic method has allowed Arctic cultures to avoid scurvy . Polar bear has a protein content of 26g/100g of edible meat and only 3.1g of fat per 100g edible portion (uncooked). This is higher in protein and lower in fat than most of the domesticated animal meats . Polar bear meat contains 1.0mg of α-tocopherol per 100g lipid resulting in lower vitamin E levels in Inuit plasma than the average American . Organ meats (apart from liver) were eaten because of their high vitamin and mineral content .
Uses other than for food
Inuit readily hunted polar bear for the hide which was used for material goods or traded for cash . The polar bear pelt was used for warm winter clothing by many [198, 200, 218, 231]. For example, East Greenlanders used polar bear skins for hunting clothes as well as for trimming . Polar bear skins were often used for mittens and boots because they did not produce any noise while worn . In autumn when hunters went smooth-ice hunting, they wore polar bear skin sandals to allow walking on the ice without any noise . Similarly, North Alaska Coast hunters wore polar bear skin mittens when hunting seals . Because polar bear skin was heavy, the hide was cut into small pieces to be used as mats to be tied to the body when they crawled on the ice while hunting for seals .
Netsilik Inuit used polar bear skins as clothing and bedding substitute when caribou fur was unavailable . They occasionally used polar bear skins for transporting belongings: this was thought to be a precursor to the toboggan . Bering Strait Yupik also used polar bear skin for bedding .
For East Main Cree, polar bear grease was a delicacy; it was kept in the stomach of caribou or special birch bark containers so it would not solidify (even in cold temperatures) . Polar Inuit scraped and dried the skins after the animal had been skinned . Grise Fiord hunters harvested polar bear: most of which was fed to the dogs or consumed by scavengers and decomposers and exported as fur and skins .
Polar bear hide was a good trading commodity because it was highly valued by Europeans who usually paid cash . Cultures from the far North were excellent at skinning polar bear by scraping it of all the fat lining, stretching it and drying it . If the bear was shot too far out on the ice and the hunters were unable to gather the whole kill, they would take the hide. The hunter would take as much meat as possible and return for more if possible but the skins were taken and stretched as large as they could be and cleaned before being sold to outside buyers .
Beliefs and taboos
Dorset Inuit believed polar bears had mystical importance; this was reflected in their art and ceremonial treatment of bear skulls and forearm bones . Yupik of Bering Strait practiced long ceremonies and ritual behaviors during the hunting of large land and sea animals . Yupik of St. Lawrence Island performed great ceremonies for the polar bear; these ceremonies involved foodstuff sacrifices, singing and dancing in honor of the animal’s soul that had been taken . The women would do magical performances in order to bring the hunters good luck. The wife of the hunter would make sure to please the spirit of the polar bear so that more of the same species could be taken . As a custom and considered a taboo if not followed during certain seasons, St. Lawrence Island Yupik would rarely take meat on their hunts because they were confident that they would catch their own .
A time honored custom in southeastern Baffin Island and East Greenland was that whoever saw the polar bear first, regardless of who killed it, would get to keep the skin . In contrast, other cultures considered the owner of the carcass to be the person who saw the bear first; the skin was divided up among the hunters . According to Iglulik and Caribou Inuit, the first person to shoot or wound the bear was the one who kept the bear. For Inupiat of Point Barrow, the flesh and skin of the bear were divided up equally among the hunters . Inuit of Quebec had one lead hunter called the “acquirer” who would be the one who organized the hunt, discovered the game, or first harpooned or killed the bear; he would receive certain privileges, such as the distribution and the special parts .
Traditionally, when the first large animal of a species was killed it would be divided amongst the villagers . When a young Unalit man killed his first large game, such as a polar bear, it was brought to the village where it was divided among the villagers and nothing was given to the young man who killed it. This tradition was done so that the young man would be successful in his future hunting . Polar cultures shared their catches with whoever was present and if it was a young man that killed the animal, all the food would be shared among the settlement, especially the older people . If an adolescent boy or girl killed the game, the meat, skin and other parts would be divided up among the older people . Copper Inuit shared the meat and skin within the extended family; Northern Hudson Bay Inuit considered it a taboo if a killing was not shared with those too young, too old or too ill to hunt for themselves .
For Inuit of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay, Angeakatille and Ochowjewtil were the names of the beings that guarded the soul of the polar bear. When a polar bear was killed its soul remained at the site of the killing for the following three days; the hunters were expected to leave the bear’s bladder, gall, milt and sweetbreads on a pole for three nights. According to Nugumiut custom, if the animal was a male bear, men’s tools such as a drill, knife, file and spear-point, would be left on the pole with the body parts. Likewise, if it was a female bear, some women’s tools such as a knife, thimble, cup, skin-stretcher and scraper would be left on the pole for three nights. Villagers were very careful not to break any taboos while the bear’s soul was still present; it was believed that transgressions would be punished .
According to Inuit of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay, when a polar bear was killed it was cut up on site: intestines were given to the dogs and the remainder was taken home. Small objects such as knives, saws and drills were hung up in the hut as gifts to the bear’s soul. Small parts of the bear, including a piece of the tongue, were hung up with the small objects for three days. During the three days, women were not allowed to comb their hair. Inuit believed that the bear’s soul would tell the other bears how it had been treated so that other bears would be willing to be caught. When the animal’s soul had left after three days, the objects were taken to the passageway of the hut where they were thrown back into the house. Young boys would gather the small objects and return them to their rightful owners .
Grizzly bears are large bears, generally grizzled-brown in coloration, that are very important symbolically and as a source of food to many north-western indigenous peoples. Grizzly bears in the interior are referred to as continental grizzly bears, while along the coast, they are referred to as coastal brown bear.
Grizzly Bear - Continental Grizzly Bear
The consumption of grizzly bear has been documented for the following cultures: Fort Nelson Slave (Dene) , Beaver , Chipewyan , Tahltan [123, 124], Tutchone , Tagish , Yukon Indigenous Peoples , Koyukon , Ahtna , Kaska , Carrier , Bella Coola (Nuxalk) [146, 232], Lillooet , southern Okanagan , Wenatchee , Tlingit , Inuit of the Mackenzie Delta . Inupiat occasionally killed grizzly bears inland on the rivers of Northwestern Alaska. Referred to as the “real brown bear”, robes the color of cinnamon were tailored from its pelt . The Naskapi (Innu) may have been referring to grizzly bears previously present in Labrador in their testimonies of the “great bear”, a species they believed to be “several times as large as the ordinary bear. This bear apparently did not hibernate in a conventional den, opting rather to sit “upright in the snow with [its] head uncovered above the drift”. They further described the bear as having a “savage humor”, barely able to climb a tree because of its long claws, and its flesh being more tender than that of common black bears . Reports of the “grey bear”, which was the “the largest and most ferocious” species of bear to roam the plains, may also refer to grizzly bears previously present in the central prairies of North America. Hunting of these bears was always attempted in groups of three or four, each participant armed with both a musket and long spear. Although it was reported to have been consumed, the cultures of the plains did not favor the flesh of this bear above that of the black bear; they described it as being more “rank”. From its pelt they crafted a bed, or bartered them with traders for blankets and other items of interest .
Grizzly bears were of limited importance in the diet of most cultures, partly due to the dangers involved in hunting the animal, the fear that many cultures had of the animal and the low palatability perceived by many. For the most part, Chalkyitsik Kutchin (Gwich’in) considered grizzly bears inedible . Fort Nelson Slave (Dene) found grizzly difficult to chew and unpleasant in taste . Wenatchee considered the meat to have a strong taste, but some individuals did consume it . Kaska consumed grizzly only in emergency situations .
Some cultures caught grizzly for purposes other than food. Lillooet , Chalkyitsik Kutchin , Chipewyan  and Okanagan  hunted grizzly bear for the pelt to be used as rugs etc. Lillooet , Chipewyan , Tahltan  used the claws, which were primarily used as ornaments (necklaces, headdresses etc.). Tahltan used the teeth as knife sharpeners and charms .
Okanagan prepared for the hunt by participating in a sweat lodge to remove their scent so as not to be detected by the animal [59, 166]. Tahltan speared or shot grizzlies in their hibernating holes which were found by their dogs; during salmon season, they were killed by streams; deadfalls (tree trunks baited with fish or meat) and snares were also effective . If a grizzly den was found, Yukon Indigenous Peoples would wake the animal in spring and use a spear of pointed bone, antler or copper or a club of moose or caribou antler soaked in grease to make it heavy; they also used snares or deadfalls of big logs . For Koyukon, hibernation holes were held by families rather than shared communally . Kaska used snares, deadfalls or spears . Ahtna used a snare or deadfall or stabbed the grizzly with a copper spear . Wenatchee used poisoned arrows . Tahltan  and Ahtna  hunted grizzly in the fall when it was at its fattiest. Southern Okanagan sought grizzlies in the spring when the bears were drowsy and still quite fat .
Those who did consume grizzly were usually most interested in the fat. For Yukon Indigenous Peoples, the most important food product was the grease rendered from the fat. It was extracted by stone-boiling the fat with water in a wooden container; the mixture was cooled and the resulting hardened grease that formed on top was removed, melted and stored in a clean moose stomach or it was added to dried meat and berries . Wenatchee sometimes baked the flesh in an earth oven .
Many cultures observed a variety of taboos and rules regarding the grizzly. A slain grizzly was considered a guest at Yukon Indigenous Peoples potlatches in order to pay their respects to the spirit power of the bear . It was considered taboo for Yukon Indigenous Peoples/Inland Tlingit women to consume grizzly flesh, likely related to a fable about a girl who had a grizzly bear husband [138, 168]. Inland Tlingit did not allow menstruating women, widows and widowers to consume the meat; when such an individual resumed eating meat, they had to be fed by a member of the opposite moiety – to not observe this, would inflict harm on the person’s relatives . Ahtna believed that grizzlies possessed great physical strength and spiritual powers, and thus many ritual precautions were created around the slaying, preparation and consumption of the animal – for example, men usually cooked the grizzly and infants were not allowed to consume it . According to Carrier custom, a pubescent boy who consumed the leg of a grizzly would suffer sore legs and if he consumed the paw, he would suffer swollen feet . Many cultures were careful not to say anything that might offend the grizzly, believing that if the grizzly heard them, it would exact revenge on the person . According to southern Okanagan, the penultimate criterion of manhood was if a man could kill a grizzly .
Grizzly Bear - Coastal Brown Bear
The consumption of coastal brown bear has been documented for a few cultures: Tahltan , Tlingit , Coast Salish , Koyukon  and Kaska .
Tlingit are reported to have hunted and consumed coastal brown bears. Hunting the large animal was considered dangerous. Tlingit would hunt with dogs that would wake the bear in its den during winter hibernation. When the animal would come to the entrance of the den, hunters would spear it. This would usually wound the bear, causing it to attack them – the resulting battle would sometimes leave dogs and hunters dead, and would leave many hunters wounded from the large paws of the bear. Pits and deadfalls were also used in the hunt for coastal brown bears, and more latterly steel traps were used. The pelt was considered the best quality in spring – it was used as a robe or a rug after being scraped and dried .
Tahltan speared or shot coastal brown bears in their hibernating holes found by the community’s dogs or by streams during salmon season. They also used snares and deadfalls (heavy tree trunks baited with fish or meat) . Tlingit used spears made of bone or shell fastened to a long handle . Coast Salish used spring trap or deadfall (baited with salmon tied with string under a strategically balanced set of heavy logs); also, small coyote-like Salish dogs were used to harass the bear and drive it into the water, making it more accessible to hunters . If Koyukon found a hibernating hole, it was considered to be privately held by the family that found it . Kaska caught brown bear with a snare of braided babiche or deadfall .
Coastal brown bear was hunted for other purposes as well. Tahltan used the pelt, the claws (as headdresses and necklaces) and the teeth (as knife sharpeners and charms) . Tlingit  and Coast Salish  used the pelt to make robes. Coast Salish also used the sinews as fastenings, the bones as pointed tools and the teeth as jewelry .
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