Grizzly territories in B.C. line up with Indigenous language communities, new study suggests

A new study led by a B.C. scientist suggests that grizzly bear genetic groups tend to inhabit territory that closely matches the regions where people speaking similar Indigenous languages live.

In a journal article published earlier this month, University of Victoria doctoral student Lauren Henson and fellow researchers said the habitats of three major genetic groups of grizzlies overlap geographically with three Indigenous language families: Tsimshian, Wakashan and Salishan Nuxalk.

“It is an indication of how deep that relationship is between bears and people in the landscape and these resources that they both rely on,” Henson told Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC’s Daybreak North.

The scientific team studied DNA in the fur of more than 100 bears that was collected over 11 years across an area of 23,500 square kilometres. The area spans from Kitimat in the north to Bella Bella in the south, and from Bella Coola in the east to Hartley Bay in the west.

Henson said her team worked closely with the Nuxalk, Haíɫzaqv, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Gitga’at and Wuikinuxv First Nations to sample and analyze the DNA.

University of Victoria scientist Lauren Henson and her team collected bear fur samples across northern B.C. over 11 years. (Raincoast Conservation Foundation)

“We’re a small part of this big emerging field of considering and incorporating different ways of knowing,” she said.

“This study is an example of the richness and the insight that this type of collaboration can provide.”

Jennifer Walkus, a Wuikinuxv scientist who was part of the research team, said she isn’t surprised by the findings.

“We and the bears have a lot of the same needs, and it makes sense that we stay fairly close to one area and we have enough resources to feed us,” she said.

“It’s definitely in line with the fact that most First Nations consider bears to be family. That is something that we’re very closely tied to.”

Wuikinuxv scientist Jennifer Walkus says the findings don’t surprise her. (Raincoast Conservation Foundation)

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