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A furry donation

Karen Mackenzie
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 07, 2008

Cambridge Bay - The polar bear looked powerful and proud but there was one problem: it was just too big to fit in the office of the Ekaluktutiak Hunters and Trappers Organization (EHTO).

"We tried it, we tried it lengthwise, but the ceiling was too short," said manager Cathy Aitaok with a laugh.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

The Cambridge Bay visitors centre welcomed about 40 people to an open house to celebrate the arrival of a giant polar bear, on loan from the Ekaluktutiak Hunters and Trappers Organization (EHTO). Back row, from left, are EHTO manager Cathy Aitaok, Mathew Nakashook, Margaret Nakashook, Willie Nakashook and EHTO chair Wendy Avalak; front from left, Courtney Nakashook, Jada Nulliayuk, Sherry Nulliayuk and Pamela Akhok gather around the animal. - photo courtesy of Vicki Aitaok

The bear is one the HTO recently had mounted with hopes of placing it where sports hunters could see it as they passed through.

"When it arrived it was lying on its side, and I thought, 'Oh, it must be small, it must be a six-foot bear. The minute I saw it upright I was like, 'Oh, no, it's humongous!" Aitok said.

Upon discovering it wouldn't fit, the HTO decided to loan it instead to the Arctic Coast Visitor Centre for two years, where it was celebrated last week with an open house.

"We think it'll help increase traffic to the visitors centre, and it's something else for the tourists and the kids," said centre manager Vicki Aitaok.

The bear was a defence kill in 2007 by local hunter Willie Nakashook, while out on the land with his family.

Nakashook had just finished a job with a sport hunter at Hadley Bay, when a group of his family came in on a Twin Otter to join him.

"We were out getting ice for water use, and when we got back the bear was at the camp," he remembered. "We watched it for a while, but my young daughter was getting cold. Even though she was getting cold, I could see the amazement in her eyes, seeing a bear at the camp."

Finally, as more and more time passed, Nakashook decided to set off a warning shot to scare the bear away.

"He turned around and came back again to the camp instead," Nakashook said.

They started their snowmobile thinking the bear would be scared off that way.

"He just laid down again, about 200 yards from the tent this time," the hunter said.

Finally, remembering the advice of his father, Mathew - a well known polar bear hunter in the region - Nakashook knew he would have no choice but to shoot the bear if his family was to be safe at their camp.

"He told me a lot of things that I would later experience, and he told me that if it can't be scared after all that, you've just got to kill it," he added.

The meat was brought to the wellness centre to be distributed to the community, and the rest was sent south to be mounted by taxidermists for the HTO.

It was a close call, but not as close as some experienced by Nakashook.

"These last two years of guiding I've had two bears run after me. It was shocking both times, it made my hair stand up on the back of my neck," he said.