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As Halloween approaches, many children shiver at the thought of ghosts, but the kids in one Inuit hamlet have quite valid reasons to be afraid of large, white, child-eating monsters. As a result, the people of Arviat have decided to cancel trick or treating this year in order to protect their kids from the polar bears that might gobble them up.

A polar bear female with her cubsAccording to a news report last week in the Huffington Post, the community of Arviat, located in Nunavut on the western shore of the Hudson Bay, has had a lot of the animals roaming around this fall. As a result, hamlet leaders decided to cancel the door-to-door trick-or-treating that children in many western countries associate with tomorrow evening, the last day of October.

According to the news story, the hamlet posted on its Facebook page a statement indicating that the council “is concerned with door to door due to this activity going on at the same time that polar bears are in and around our community.” As a result, the council decided to hold a Halloween celebration in the community hall which will especially focus on the fantasies of the children, such as face painting and a haunted house.

The village council included a letter on its Facebook page saying that the majority of the village residents supported the idea of having a safe environment for celebrating Halloween. According to another news report quoted by the Huff Post story, Steve England, the senior administrator in the village, commented, “picture 1,200 kids going door-to-door in Arviat in the middle of polar bear season.” Arviat has about 2,000 residents in all.

He didn’t have to add, for a Canadian audience, that polar bears are widely known as aggressive predators that might attack and try to eat human beings. Kids would make tasty snacks for the bears. “It’s a pretty obvious conclusion of what tragedies could come out of that. We’re just trying to safeguard the younger population by offering an alternative,” England said. The bears have been entering the village in increasing numbers in recent years.

The hamlet council posted a public notice, reproduced with the news article, stating its reasons for the decision to cancel the trick-or-treating. The posting said that the hamlet recreation committee, its staff, other organizations, and businesses are cooperating to produce fun, but safe, events for the kids tomorrow night.

The decision to cancel trick-or-treating was made within the context of an agreement reached on October 14th and widely reported in the Canadian press that the Inuit and Cree hunters of polar bears will further limit their hunting kill this year. The annual harvest of bears has been 60 animals in the southern Hudson Bay region, but the new agreement, reached with the native groups, is to limit the harvest to 45.

The polar bears of course are not monsters. They are important predators—they represent a critical component in the Arctic ecosystem. There have been years of meetings, debates, and disagreements between biologists concerned that the numbers of polar bears are dropping, based on extensive wildlife research, and observers in Inuit communities who strongly disagree. The reduced limit on the number of bears allowed to be shot this hunting season will take effect as of November 1. Inuit negotiators said that they agreed to the reduction in the numbers of bears allowed to be killed in order to appease international pressure groups.

Paul Irngaut from the organization Nunavut Tunngavik told the news agency, “We keep saying there’s too many bears out there but the biologists don’t seem to understand that.” However, the hamlet council in Arviat made no mention of that larger controversy in the publicity about their decision—their action was framed entirely as a measure to protect their children.