Carvings that represent polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are commonly found in Dorset Paleo-Eskimo archaeological sites across the eastern Arctic. Relational ecology, combined with Amerindian perspectivism, provides an integrated framework within which to comprehensively assess the connections between Dorset and polar bears. By considering the representational aspects of the objects, we reveal an ethology of polar bears encoded within the carvings’ various forms. Reconstructing the experiences and perceptions of Dorset as they routinely interacted with these creatures, and placing these interactions in socioeconomic, environmental, and historical context, permits us to decode a symbolic ecology inherent in the effigies. To the Dorset, these carvings were simultaneously tools and mnemonics (symbols). As tools, they were used to directly access the predatory and spiritual abilities of bears or, more prosaically, to teach and remind of the variety of proper hunting techniques available for capturing seals. As symbols, however, they were far more powerful, signaling how Dorset people conceptualized themselves and their place in the universe. Symbolic of an ice-edge way of life, the effigies expose the role that this special relationship with polar bears played in the creation of Dorset histories and identities.