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Bears In Stories

Post by Katie Billing of Polar Bears International

Bears have been in stories and legends throughout history. Native Americans were some of the first people to see bears and use them to explain phenomenon. Bears have been used in both religious and medical traditions amongst many tribes. The bear (particularly the grizzly bear) is a symbol of strength, greatness, and love. Some tribes believed that the Great Spirit could often take the form of a bear. With such a prestigious place in the ancient native traditions, it can be easily concluded that the Native American people treated bears with awe and respect.

The Indian Bear Dance was a popular ritual aiding in the bear hibernation process, as well as bringing back the ghosts of ancestors. It is said that the ancestor’s spirits join the dance and send the bears to sleep. Bears were also used in Native American culture to represent the change of seasons. Pueblo tribes considered the bears to be one of the six directional guardians. The bear was also a mother symbol and many Native American women thought highly of them.

Bears have been captured by the Native American people in artwork, sculpture, and story telling. Some bears were thought to have magical healing powers. The Zunis tribe carved stone bear fetishes and used them for protection. Other tribes hunted bears and made the claws into necklaces for good health. The remaining parts of the bear was used for food and clothing. Although the bears were killed, the hunters treated the creatures with utmost respect.

Today bears remain in our culture. Some have still been considered spirit bears. Even popular culture such as Disney made a children’s film about a Native American legend where a man turned into a bear. It is amazing how stories are important within culture and how the role of the bear will always remain a prominent theme within the heritage of North America.