Grizzly bears and humans have more in common than meets the eye, according to a recent collaborative study involving five First Nations.
The research analyzed grizzly bear DNA on the central coast of what’s been briefly known as British Columbia.
The study, which extracted DNA from samples of hair, ultimately found three distinct groups of bears that are genetically unique from one another.
Amazingly, the thing that sets them apart is that they appear to have co-evolved with humans based on three Indigenous language families: Tsimshian, Northern Wakashan and Salishan Nuxalk.
The connection to Indigenous languages shows that human influence has shifted the genetic makeup of grizzlies — which have shared the landscape with humans for millions of years.
The research involved the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk), Gitga’at, Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, and Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nations as well as Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the University of Victoria.
“Despite dense settlement and use of the coast by people in the past, the rugged landscape and large waterways, none of these features explained the pattern of grizzly genetic groups,” according to Raincoast.
“However, the geographies of these three genetic groups strikingly align with those of three Indigenous language families.”
The study explains that “bears within the spatial boundaries of distinct language families were both significantly similar to each other” while showing dissimilarities to the bears located in the two other geographic areas bordered by the other languages.
“Thus, Indigenous language families and bear genetic groups showed significant spatial overlap.”
Researchers indicated that the finding wasn’t a total surprise to local Indigenous people, given how the territories have been shared for millions of years — with both humans and bears learning from ancestors about food sources and where their home base should be.
“In some places, bears stay close to the home range and territory of their mothers just as Indigenous families traditionally have rights to manage a specific part of a river or watershed,” Raincoast wrote.
The family connections to the land experienced by both the bears and by humans show a shared cultural understanding. The finding is important because it speaks to the importance of Indigenous communities managing their own territories.
In this case, researchers say it would make the most sense to manage the areas within the boundaries identified in this study — however, the provincial government’s designated management zones Designated management zonesSpecific areas where the conservation of wildlife, recreation, or other values takes precedence over resource development. Learn More are different than that.
William Housty of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, is a co-author on the study. He said that the research means people can make more informed decisions when it comes to the territories and living beings on it.
“Our investments in research across our territories allow us to make informed management decisions that draw not only from our own knowledge, but also new scientific evidence like this.”
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