Siege of the Polar Bears
Credit: RGB Ventures LLC / Alamy
The trauma of being chased by a bear is durable and perspective-altering. It's like entering a new land. After the event, you walk in a different Arviat than everyone else, one that is not just dangerous but manifestly lethal. You will be far more likely to see the crisis in binary terms: Arviat will not be fit to live in until the bears are gone.

"There's nothing in your mind, just 'Run!' " Luke Atatsiak told me, a little sweat standing out on his forehead. Luke is one of the young men who got chased the day I arrived in Arviat. We were sitting at the dining table in his house, a slight-looking A-frame with a single first-floor room. Luke is rangy, with a melancholy face that changes entirely when he smiles – a crooked-tooth smile so wide it nearly forces his eyes closed.

"While I was running, I was in my boots, steel-toe, and somehow I didn't slip," he said. He kept thinking about this detail, how strange it was that the boots didn't slow him down. "After what happened, I kept laughing at myself – I didn't know I could run that fast," he said.

I asked him whether he would have gotten away if Paul Aliktiluk hadn't arrived. "No," he said. "It was too close."

I asked what he said after Aliktiluk herded the bear back to the bay. "Nothing. Just: 'I can't believe it happened,'" Luke said. He kept repeating that. "Now I know how scary they are," he said.

I asked him how much he thought about it. "Most of the time," he said.