The Bear Clan
Written and researched by Margaret nee Knight Sypniewska, B.F.A.

The bear on the hill top pointed up to the skies
And gave the young visitor some sparkle in his eyes
Giving him the strength to go on
Said now seek the one in the pond (turtle)
Your vision has found a new dawn

Excerpt from The Natural Place by David Black


The Bear is a desirable ally and powerful spirit totem, because of man's reverence towards them. Many Medicine Men have adopted Bear as part of their name, since they are thought to have supernatural powers and the ability to heal. Bears, like men, can walk on their back legs, and they tend to eat the same things as humans. Bears use many sounds to communicate: whoofs, sniffs, roars, growls, moans, and meows. All these sounds are "Bear Talk.:" Stories tell of snoring men being mistaken for the sound of bears in the wilds. Bears have been said to attack tents thinking that another male is inside. One must remember that animals do not always think the same as men.

Bear Clan members are generally leaders within their community and fight for their families best interests.

A Bear has two sides to his personality. On one hand he is curious, cheerful, good-natured, and deliberate. On the other hand, they are quick to anger, because they are sure of their own power, and will defend their family to the death. Bears only enemies are man and forest fires.

In legends of the Animal World, Bear was the head of the Council of Animals, because of his fairness, strength, and courage. There are many stories written about bears killing humans, and many of men turning into bears. Just before the turn of the century, the Alaskan brown bear was all but exterminated on the Alaska Peninsula by hide hunters. The great beast fell victim to hunters who helped supply the royal families and aristocracy of Russia with skins. Old-time hunters living on the Alaska Peninsula told of the hunters in those days taking an average of 20 bears a year. Demand for the hides of the bear fell off in 1899, and hunting of bear ceased for a time.(Kaniut, Larry, Alaska Bear Tales. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest Books, 1983, 298)

"The giant brown bear of the peninsula was so abundant at one time that his tribe had worn deep trails, three by three feet, in the tundra, and his masses wore steps and paths in the rocks they passed over"(ibid).. Bear is kin to humans since they can walk upright on their hind legs. The Bear is the largest carnivore. They eat plants, fruit, and meat. Bears are fast and can run about 35-40 mph for short distances. All bears can climb. All bears are fond of honey. Bears know the secrets of plants.

Bear hunting, among aboriginals, was conducted according to complex religious procedures. Ritual appeasement and cherimones disposal of a slain bear was to have the other bears feel honored.

Up until "the coming of the white man there were basic values that were never violated ... until the Europeans introduced it as a genocidal measure to eliminate the natives, the concept of scalping was unheard of. The concept of hunting and killing an animal solely for its fur was equally foreign to our people. Even among the most fearsome American tribes in Pre-Columbian times, an animal was never killed without giving thanks to its spirit (in prayer), without utilizing its meat in reverance and gratitude." - Ken Carey.

The Grizzly Bear

Ursus arctos/Alaskan Brown Bear
Photograph by Rom Edwards

There were an estimated 50,000 grizzlies in the lower forty-eight (48) states in the 1800's (200 years ago). The Grizzly Bear can weigh more than 900 pounds, and stands taller than eight feet. Grizzlies often inspire fear in men. Sometimes grizs are accused of attacking man, but it is rare and most of the time is in their own defense or that of their families (cubs). Grizzlies are almost extinct, except in Alaska.

The Grizzly is one of the most courageous and intelligent of all beasts, and entirely unpredictable...
.....Frank Dufrene, Director of the Alaskan Game Commission.

[More on Bear (my page)| Brown Bear|Ten Facts About Bears]

The Bear Medicine Clan

Another story, told to me by my grandmother, was about the Origin of the Bear Medicine Clan. Her mother was a member of the Bear Medicine Society:

Once upon a time, a sickly old man, covered with sores, entered an Indian village where over each wigwam was placed the sign of their particular clan. For example, the Beaver Clan member had a beaver skin, and the Deer Clan had a deer skin hanging near the doorway.

The old man went to each door asking for food and lodging. However, everyone was repulsed by this old man's appearance and were afraid to let him near. The Wolf, Turtle, and Heron Clan members all told him to go away. The deer, the snipe, and the others did the same.
Just about the time this man was to give up, he came to the home of an old woman of the Bear Clan. She was a kindly old woman who asked him to come into her wigwam and she made him a bed of skins to lie upon. The woman asked the man about his health, and he told her to go to the forest and gather certain herbs, barks, and berries. The woman went to the forest and collected all that she was told. She prepared a potion according to the Old Man's instructions and he miraculously healed.

However, the man suddenly had another ailment. She again went to the woods and fields and brought back all the herbs, and continued in this manner until the man had shown her the cures to all the ailments of mankind.

This went on for days until the Woman of the Bear Clan had learned all the cures and portions. His last instruction were for her to grow a Hemlock Tree in front of her wigwam. The Woman was amazed at how tall this tree grew in a short time. It stood well above all the other trees in the village. The Hemlock could be seen and identified her wigwam as a place of healing. The Old Man suddenly changed into a much younger, strong man. He then revealed to the Old Woman that he was the Great Spirit. He had come to find a worthy receiver of the powers of Medicine. Since the Bear Clan Woman was the only one who would offer him food and shelter, she was given the gift of healing, and Bear Clan is still The Keepers of Medicine today. Bear takes precedence over all the other clans in power, because they are said to have compassion for human life, as told to me by my grandmother.

Bear teaches us strength and gentleness. It reminds us not to use our strength towards another, unless there is no other choice. It is far easier to strike out, than to control ones temper. A strong man does not use his strength to intimidate others.


Keeping with the theme that "We Are All Related" CLICK HERE to see how the Ancient Celts revered the Bear.

Histories were passed on orally from generation to generation. These legends have been repeated by thousands of men and women, and naturally were modified by their storyteller. Incidents can be changed, omitted, or embellished. No one version of these tales is told. They vary from tribe to tribe, but major themes are consistant.

Lessons Learned From This Story:


The object of the Bear Medicine Society is to cure its candidates and members, from diseases by ritual chanting, dancing, and the use of herbs. Membership to Bear Clan is through your lineage. My great-grandmother (a Mohawk) was a healer and member of both the Bear clan and the Bear Medicine Society. Bear's attributes are healing, leadership, and the ability to defend.

Iroquois Medicine

Other Medicine Societies of the Iroquois are:
Buffalo, Eagle, False Face Society, Husk Face Society, The Little People Society, and the Society of the Mystic Animals.


During George Bush, Sr.'s presidency, in January 1991, the National Wildlife Federation won a victory to leave Alaska's Tongas National Forest off-limits to logging. NWF also stopped logging in the Pacific Northwest, home of the spotted owl and the Pacific yew.

The bark of the Pacific yew is the only source of taxol, a drug used for treating ovarian cancer. The yew should be on the threatened list since it takes one-hundred (100) years to grow large enough to be useful as a source of taxol. In order to get the taxol, they must harvest the bark which then kills the tree (like gridling). People in power should stop and think about the next 50 years and stop logging the Pacific yew. Many times removing trees next to the yews can damage the balance of the forest too. THINK.


"Providing roadless protection for our national forests is the right thing to do. And because it's the right thing to do, its important to do it right, for the land, for the people, for communities. for states, and for the country as a whole."
.....Secretary Ann Veneman, U.S. Department of Agriculture - Speaking about the Roadless Rule - May 4, 2001.

The Bush Administration was stopped from targeting roadless areas in Tongass National Forest for industrial logging and road-building. His ten year schedule would include fifty (50) timber projects in the roadless areas (those protected).

There is currently enough lumber in the roaded areas to fill logging trucks stretched end-to-end from Washington D.C. to San Diego California five times over.

President George W. Bush was being attacked by many environmental activists regarding his attempts to re-write environmental policies passed by President Clinton:


Environmental law .....NRDC ... Alaska Rainforest Campaign ... Alaska Coalition

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