Chanisse Kuptana

Watching for Bears: Chanisse Kuptana Keeps an Eye on Her Community and the Coast

“Once you get your education, that's the key. You can do anything you want after that,” says Chanisse Kuptana. She was born in Inuvik but grew up in Tuktoyaktuk, which she describes as a “very cultural place” where there’s so much to learn. Her family came down from Alaska with a dog team and she’s been trying to learn more about her culture and where her family came from. She got her education and for the past five years she has worked as a bear monitor. 

“It's all about the land and our ocean and how our land is forming,” she explains. Part of her role is monitoring erosion, measuring to see how much of the shore has washed away. Otherwise, she’s watching for evidence of bear activity. She goes out around the open water to watch for tracks or dead animals killed by bears to indicate their presence. 

After completing her bear monitoring course, her FAC, and an ATV course, she has the certifications she needs to be successful in this line of work. With her own firearms and with confidence in herself, she’s able to go out on her own. Given her level of certification, she takes responsibility for the safety of her colleagues and checks in to make sure they are okay. 

What inspires her to work as a monitor is her late partner who was a full-time hunter and provider for the community. He showed her beautiful places and taught her about being on the land and how to provide. “He always told me respect the caribou, respect the land, and it's gonna come back to you and I always keep that in my heart, in my head,” she reminisces. 

She learned about her culture from him and wants to continue to work with the land and her culture in his memory. “I just want to keep that tradition going with my monitoring and with his skills that he brought down to me,” Kuptana reflects. She likes to bring caribou to elders who are hungry for it and loves to see them smile as they enjoy it in their soup. 

As an avid outdoors person, Kuptana loves that her job involves getting to be outside. She’s either driving skidoo or four wheelers depending on the season. She loves spending all day out in the fresh air, checking the highways for bear activity. 

If she could give advice to Indigenous students leaving their small communities to get training or work she would say, “Go for it! The more certificates, the better. Once you get your certificates, the sky's the limit. You could travel, you could do anything. It's a good job. The certificates, they'll take you places.” Thinking about how few jobs are in small communities, she sees training as a way to set yourself apart and gain employment. 

"Once you get your certificates, the sky's the limit. You could travel, you could do anything. The certificates, they'll take you places."

Within her family, Kuptana faced a lot of obstacles with alcoholism and trauma. All of that left her wanting to spend more time on the land, praying. She’s tried to move forward and better herself. “It's still a learning process for me, and I'm still learning today,” she confides. Her experiences have motivated her to work harder, moving towards the future instead of looking to the past. 

“The past is the past, you can't do nothing about it. All you can do is move forward.”

If she could give her younger self advice it would be to pray. These days she prays for herself to get better and move forward. When she was young, she would spend time with the elders and listen to their advice. They would tell her, “Never give up. Tomorrow is a new day.”  

To manage her mental health, she spends time out on the land because there’s no one else there and she can do as she pleases. “I could pray. I could scream… Nobody could hurt me. Nobody could do anything to me. It's just me and God,” she muses. She’s happy out on the land, driving and praying, feeling a surge of motivation driving by where her great grandfather had his caribou herd. 

To inspire the younger generation, Kuptana shares words of wisdom, urging, “Don’t give up. Anything's possible. As long as you put your mind to it, you could do it. Just have faith and pray.” 

Once she got her education, Chanisse Kuptana could do anything she wanted and she decided what she wanted most was to become a bear monitor. Spending time outdoors and keeping her community safe, she gives back to the community while doing what she loves. Watching for signs out on the land, she finds peace and healing within her heart and soul.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    May 24, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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