Pharma: Is Your Brand Surviving or Thriving? Lessons From Polar Bears and First Peoples of Canada

 Just back from sub-arctic Churchill, Canada, also known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” we had an amazing opportunity to not only see these magnificent animals ‘up close and personal’, but to also meet and talk with some of the First Peoples (which include the First Nations, Inuit and Metis) who shared their interesting history and stories.

Churchill is a small, northern town in the Canadian province of Manitoba and is located on the shore of the Hudson Bay, where the polar bears descend from October to mid-November as they wait for the Bay to freeze, so they can go back out and hunt for ringed seals. The only way to reach this remote settlement is by prop plan or a 40-hour train journey from Winnipeg. (We flew on none other than ‘Calm Air’.)

The first thing that we were told as we were greeted in Churchill: “ At this time of the year, there is every possibility of a polar bear wondering into town, and remember,  they haven’t eaten since July!… In other words, the bear warnings posted around town are not for show or to give tourists a frisson! [We also learned two important lessons should you come face-to-face with a polar bear:  1) do not run and 2) do not play dead.]

You might be wondering, why would a busy pharma consultant, Mom and wife be venturing up to northern Canada in early November to see polar bears? My adventurous 88-year-old mother! She has always wanted to see the polar bears as they migrate, and decided this was the year. Therefore, off I went with my ten year old to accompany her; leaving my older boys and hubby back home!

Of all the animals that the Inuit hunt, Nanuk, the polar bear,  is the most prized.  Native hunters consider Nanuk to be wise, powerful, and almost a man. Some call the polar bear the great lonely roamer.

  • Polar bears are white for a reason. While you might think it would be easy to spot an animal that can weigh more than 1,600lb, with the wind swirling with snow, it is not. Wherever there is snow, the polar bears are excellently camouflaged. They also make little noise and can run up to 25mph, so before you know it, they can be in your face…
  • Polar bears are curious. Being at the top of the food chain, gives them the heartfelt freedom to explore and to be curious! They often approach the ‘ buggy’ trucks to get a good look at people.  When you see them at close quarters- the tundra buggies have an outside viewing platform- they look almost unreal, rather like cartoon animals, and it becomes impossible not to anthropomorphise them. It is easy to see why they are center of much Indian folklore and stories.
  • Polar bears are smart, clever, and patient. This is evident by their learned ability to trap and catch seals, which is no easy feat. (They are thought to be just as smart as apes.)
  • Polar bears are solitary, content to live most of its adult life alone. [They make the John Wayne archetype look like child’s play!]
  • Polar bears are superbly adapted for the cold, harsh arctic climate.  They have long guard hairs, dense undercoat and thick layers of fat, compact ears and small tail to prevent heat loss, and large paws perfect for roaming the Arctic. Paws measure up to 12 inches across and help distribute weight when treading on thin ice. When ice is very thin, polar bears extend their legs far apart and lower their bodies to distribute their weight even more. They are expert at placing each paw precisely and quietly when stalking seals. They have heightened sense of smell, hearing and vision to help survive in arctic conditions.

Polar bears do not hibernate over winter in dens like brown and black bears. [Only pregnant females enter dens to give birth where they stay until the cubs are big enough to trek.] They have the ability to reduce their metabolic rate when food is scarce and adjust it again when food is abundant. An example of this are the polar bears that come ashore after the ice melts in Hudson Bay each summer. These bears have no food source and enter a state scientists call walking hibernation.[Looks like my teenagers getting ready for school each morning.]

Despite the harsh climate of the north country, the First Peoples do not believe in just living, but thriving. Perhaps the greatest symbol of the fortitude and determination of the Inuit and Canadian north are what they call Inukshuk (pronounced ‘in-ook-shook’).

The Inukshuk is simply a pile of stones arranged to resemble the shape of a human being with arms stretched out. Traditionally the Inuit made Innuksuit (plural) in different forms and for different purposes: to show directions to travellers, to warn of impending danger, to make a place of respect, to store food, or to act as helpers in the hunting of caribou. These stone structures are common across the Canadian Arctic.

The Inuit Inukshuk, though made of inanimate rock, has evolved into more than just stone markers. It embodies the spirit and persistence of the Inuit who live and flourish in one of the worlds’ harshest environments. Inuksuk’s represent strength, leadership, and motivation. Each stone of an inukshuk is a separate entity but was chosen for how well it fits together with other stones. The stones are secured through balance. Each one supports the one above it and is supported by the one below it. Together, the stones achieve strength through unity. This effect is applied to a philosophy for people where a group can achieve greater success with cooperation and team effort rather than individually.  The inukshuk stands for the importance of friendship and reminds us of our dependence on one another.

Both the polar bears and peoples of the North Country do more than just live in the harsh, cold climate—they thrive.

Whether due to polar bear strength, adaptation and smarts OR the Inuit belief that communities thrive best when they cooperate and work together, thriving is characterized by success and prosperity…

What can your company or brand learn from the great polar bears and The First Peoples of North Canada?  How can your brand thrive? Become stronger, faster, more adept? Build a stronger sense of community and collaboration?

More pictures below if you are interested…We had a great trip!

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