Finding True North

Photographs by Ed Ou

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Inuit Balance Modernity and Tradition in Northern Canada
At the annual Hunters and Trappers Association meeting at the town hall in Arviat, in the Canadian province of Nunavut, hunters draw names out of a box for the opportunity to hunt a polar bear. Polar bear hunting is legal in Canada, governed by a lottery among for eligible Inuit hunters. In Arviat alone, there are approximately 1500 eligible hunters and only 10 tags. After the drawing, the 10 lucky hunters  have 48 hours to successfully kill a polar bear – if not, their tag goes to another hunter.

While the United States and other countries have banned trade of their meat, fur and body parts, Canada permits the continued hunting of polar bear - as well as whale, seal and other game known here as 'country food' - as a nod to both past and present: an acknowledgment of Inuit tradition and the realities of modern Inuit life , in which polar bear hunting provides a much needed lifeline to impoverished Inuit families. A single polar bear pelt can command more than $10,000 at auction; almost as valuable is the meat in provides in a remote region where storebought food is mostly imported by plane and boat and prohibitively expensive. In this context, winning the polar bear lottery is economic salvation.

To people unaccustomed to polar bear hunting, images of the slaughtered creature can be startling. And so, in this story, photographer Ed Ou sought to place this practice in the social and economic context in which it occurs. It's a practice rooted in tradition, but it's also one rooted in present-day need. Regardless of how one feels about polar bear hunting, the international conversation about polar bear preservation will have to take these factors into account.

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