Grizzly Bears have been important in the culture of Native American Indians for centuries and they hold the bear in high regard. This magnificent animal has always commanded a great deal of respect from the people who have shared its land. |
What Do Grizzlies Mean to Native Americans?
The Native American tribes, many of which believe the bear to be a representation of a deity, revere these mighty animals and have long held them in great esteem, recognising their size, strength, speed and prowess. They understand the behaviour of the bear is extremely complex and believe they are different to the other animals they come into contact with. Because of this long-held admiration, the animal has featured in many a traditional legend.
What Did the Grizzly Mean to Native Americans?
Often seen as the subject of paintings and in jewellery engravings, Grizzly Bears became a symbol of strength to the Indians. The animals stood for many different meanings and were part of several rituals in Native American culture. The Indian Bear Dance was a dance performed to bring back the ghosts of ancestors, but it was also believed that the spirits of the ancestors joined in the dance to assist the bears to relax and fall asleep for their long hibernation. This particular dance preceded the Circle of Life Dance, which was performed around a fire, and the dancing, singing and chanting of lyrics was thought to bring warmth and light while the Grizzly Bears hibernated.
Native American Indians have always had a healthy respect for the bears; they feared them despite hunting them for food, pelt and claws, which they made into jewellery such as necklaces. Because the Native American Indians believed the animal to be so spiritually powerful, the jewellery was thought to bring protection and good health to the wearer.
Even today, members of these ancient tribes can be seen wearing necklaces made from bear claws, however with modern hunting laws and conservation efforts, most are in fact very old. These objects were very valuable to the Indians and so there are very few available to view outside the Indian tribes. Some dating back to the 1800s are now preserved in museums and you can see one at the Peabody Museum at Harvard.
The relationship between Grizzly Bears and the Native American Indians is a special one, laden with tradition, history and beliefs. It is fascinating and heart-warming to know that it continues today as it has done for so many centuries.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. If you’re looking for bear watching tours, Naturetrek specialises in expert-led natural history and wildlife tours worldwide to see Grizzly Bears, Polar Bears and other species. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to polar expeditions and tours to other spectacular regions on Earth.
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