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The character of the Indian’s emotion left little room in his heart for antagonism toward his fellow creatures …. For the Lakota (one of the three branches of the Sioux Nation), mountains, lakes, rivers, springs, valleys, and the woods were all in finished beauty. Winds, rain, snow, sunshine, day, night, and change of seasons were endlessly fascinating. Birds, insects, and animals filled the world with knowledge that defied the comprehension of man.
The Lakota was a true naturalist – a lover of Nature. He loved the earth and all things of the earth, and the attachment grew with age. The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power.
It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth.
Their tipis were built upon the earth and their alters were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth, and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing.
This is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its live giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; he can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.
Chief Luther Standing Bear – Oglala Sioux
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The Bear Dance also symbolizes the celebration of the beginning and connecting of all beings, both animate and inanimate. People participating in the dance share food, prayers, and thanksgiving for their world, as well as respect for the right of the bear and the rattlesnake to co-exist and to use the same environment. Another important aspect of the Bear Dance is the cleaning of the outward body with medicinal wormwood immediately following the ceremony.
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NATIVE AMERICAN LEGEND OF THE WHITE FACE BEAR
In a tribal village there lived a mighty bear-hunter. For more than three years, he had been constantly successful in killing so many that his friend tried to persuade him to stop hunting.
“If you insist upon hunting one more bear, you will come across a huge bear who might kill you,” he said. The hunter ignored his friend’s advice and replied, “I will attack every bear I come across.”
A few days later the hunter started out and saw a bear with two cubs. He decided this was not the huge bear he had been worried about, so he attacked the mother bear, and after some difficulty killed her. The cubs ran away. After the hunter dragged the bear home for his tribe, his friend continued to urge him to give up the bear hunt, but without success.
On another hunt, after a few days on the trail, the hunter met a stranger who informed him that near his village were a great many bears. “Every year many are killed by our hunters, but always there is an invincible one that has destroyed many of our hunters. Each time he kills a man, the bear tears him apart, examines him carefully as if searching for a special body mark. He is different because his feet and head are white.”
They parted, and the hunter started out to look for that hunting ground. On his way, he stopped near a fish creek looking for game, but after a long night none appeared. Next morning he moved onward and came to a high bluff; below it he saw many bears on the tundra. He waited until some separated and looked over the remainder.
Among those, he saw the white-faced bear with white feet and concluded that this must be the ferocious, huge bear he sought. First he would keep an eye on it and wait for a favorable opportunity to kill it.
SONG OF THE BEAR
Now it seems that at one time, the white-faced bear was a human being and a very successful bear-hunter, too successful for his own good. His friends were envious and plotted to kill him. So they went to a medicine-man deep in the woods, and begged him to transform the successful hunter into a beast.
“Shoot a bear, skin it and place the skin under the pillow of your successful hunter,” advised the Shaman.
After the bear-skin had been prepared, the Shaman and his friends quietly went to the man’s hut and placed the skin under the man’s pillow. They hid themselves to see what would happen when the man went to bed. Upon waking, the man found that he had become a huge bear with a white face and white feet.
“The white marks will show you which bear he is,” said the Shaman, who disappeared into the woods.
Now our bear-hunter still sat at the edge of the bluff. Toward evening he saw the bears begin to leave, all except the white- faced bear. He was the last to get up, and he shook himself three times and acted as if he was deeply enraged. He moved toward the bluff where the hunter sat perfectly still. But the bear approached, and when he was almost face to face, asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I came out to hunt,” he replied.
“Is it not enough that you have killed all my family, and recently killed my wife, and now you want to take my life? If you had injured my children the other day, I would now tear you to pieces. I will, however, spare your life this time on your promise that you will never hunt bears again. All the bears you saw today are my children and of my brother. Should I ever see you hunting bear, I will tear you apart.”
Relieved to get away so easily, the hunter headed homeward. His friend met him and inquired about the white-faced bear, and when told what had happened, he urged the hunter to give up hunting. A whole week passed before the hunter set forth again, taking along six hunting friends.
For two days they hunted without luck, then came to the fish creek where they camped overnight. Next morning their leader took the six to the edge of the bluff where they could look down at the tundra and see many bears. But they could not see the white- faced bear and, encouraged, followed their leader toward the animals.
“Look at that strange-looking beast with white paws and a white face!” exclaimed one man.
The hunter-leader caught sight of that special bear and ordered his followers to retreat at once. So they went around another mountain where they saw many bears. They killed seven, one for each man.
Loaded with their spoil they took the homeward trail, but a short distance behind them they heard a commotion. They saw the white faced bear rapidly approaching them. The hunter aimed, but his bowstring broke. The others shot and missed. The white-faced bear spoke up and said, “Why do you shoot at me? I never harm you. Your leader killed my wife and nearly all my family. I warned him that if I found him hunting again, I would tear him apart. And this I shall do now, piece by piece. The rest of you can go. I’ll not harm you because you have not harmed me.”
Hurriedly, as fast as possible, the six men fled. The white- faced bear turned to the bear-hunter.
“I had you in my power once and I let you go on your promise not to hunt bear again. Now you are back at it and brought more bear- hunters along. This time I will do to you as you have done to mine.”
The hunter pleaded to be allowed to live one more night so he could go home. At first the bear refused outright. The white- faced bear then relented, and would even spare his life entirely, if the hunter would tell him who had transformed him from a man into a beast. The hunter agreed to meet him the next night and go to the home of the Shaman.
When the bear-hunter reached home and found his six companions talking excitedly about the day’s experience, they were surprised to see the hunter- leader alive.
The hunter told them his plan to meet the white-faced bear at the home of the Shaman next evening and asked the six to go with him. They refused and tried to dissuade their leader. But the bear- hunter kept his word and met the white-faced bear at the appointed place. A light shone from every hut except that of the Shaman.
“This is the place,” said the man.
“I will remain here,” ordered the bear. “You go inside and tell him there is a man outside wishing to speak with him.”
The man advanced and found the skin-door tied, so he reported to the bear that the Shaman must be out. The bear ordered him back to cut the door, then walk in. Upon entering, the man heard someone call, “Who dares come into my lodge?”
“It is I,” said the bear-hunter.
“What do you wish?”
“There is a man outside who wishes to speak to you.”
Had the Shaman not been so sleepy, he might have been suspicious. Under the circumstances, his mind was not clear and he fell into the trap.
When the Shaman came near the white-faced bear, the old man became frightened and was ready to run away. But the bear blocked his way and said, “For years you have tortured me and made my life a burden in this condition. I demand you give me back my human form immediately, otherwise I shall tear you to pieces.”
The Shaman promised to do so if the bear would follow him into his hut. Before going in, the bear said to the hunter, “Meet me here when I come out.”
All night the Shaman worked hard with the bear, and by next morning succeeded in pulling off the bear-skin, and a human form appeared. The Shaman asked to keep the white-faced bear’s skin, but the man kept the white-face and the white claws, which he cut off at once, giving the rest of the skin to the Shaman.
“If you ever again try to transform a man into a beast, I will be back and kill you dead, dead, dead,” said the man.
The next day when the bear-man met the bear-hunter he said, “I caution you against ever going out to hunt bear. You may even hear people say I’ve become a bear again, and they will hunt me. Don’t you join them. If I find you in their company, I will kill you dead, dead, dead.”
For about four weeks the hunter remained at home with every intention of keeping his promise to the transformed man. But one day two young men from the neighboring tribal village came to beg his assistance. They asked his help to kill a ferocious bear with a white face and four white feet.
Of course the hunter knew the bear they feared, but decided to disguise himself and go help them. They gathered all of the village warriors and set out to find the white-faced bear. The bear saw them coming. He rose and shook himself three times, giving the impression of great anger, which frightened the warriors. Their chief said, “We are in great danger, so we must stand and fight.”
Madly, the white-faced bear jumped, landed in front of the hunter and tore him to pieces. Then it pawed a hole in the ground and covered up the parts. The terrified warriors tried to escape, but the white-faced bear chased them back to their village, tearing them apart, killing all of them, including the old Shaman. Finished, the white-faced bear turned back into the woods to rest undisturbed forever.
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