“How the grizzly spirit gave me its power”

My name is Sdipp-Shin-Mah (Fallen from the sky). I am Flathead. I am going to tell you now about the time when the grizzly spirit gave me its power.

One day when I was a girl just about six or seven winters, my mother told me we were going berrying in the mountains. We rode double on her horse and went high into the mountains. It was getting late in the evening. I saw a patch of bushes. I told my mother, “Look, there are some berries and plenty of them”.

She said, “Child have patience, a little further up is the place where we will get our berries.”

So we went on and on until when the sun was just about going down she stopped our horse and said, “Here is the place where we are going to pick.”

She put me off the horse and got off also. She started picking and put some berries on the ground for me and said, “Sit here and eat on these berries while I go down here to see if there are more below.”

She spread out my robe, and I sat on it and began eating. She got on the horse and reminded me to stay where I was, and she said she would be back soon. She disappeared in the bushes. I was not afraid. I ate berries and talked to myself about the trees. Then I saw night was coming and my mother was not yet back. I became frightened and called for her. I called for my mother but saw no sign of her. I called and called while crying, not knowing what to do. I just cried and cried and called for my mother all night. But there was no use. She had left me and went back home leaving me alone in the high mountains.

When I could not cry any longer, I got up and took my robe and walked bot knowing where I was going. It was still night and very dark. I went on until I got tired and sleepy and lay down and went to sleep. When I woke up then sun was way up already, and it was nice and warm. At first I thought I was sleeping with my mother at home. Then I remembered I was high in the mountains, and my mother was not there. I started to cry again. When I stopped crying I began to walk and eat the berries growing there. I kept until I got to a deep gulch fully covered with trees. While I sat there I thought of my home and my mother. I began to cry again. Then I barely heard a sound that I thought was human voices. I listened closely but heard nothing and thought it must be the cry of a bird or something. Then I heard a sound again, and as I listened I heard it again and again and knew it was the sound of humans laughing and talking loudly way down in the bottom of the gulch. I could not see them as it was covered all over with trees and bushes, but I could tell they were coming toward me.

Just where I was sitting was on a ridge and below on the hillside was an open bald place. The sound came from that way and I was watching closely and was surprised with joy to see a woman with two little ones coming. I thought it was someone from my tribe. They were running and chasing each other. Laughing and shouting, they came pretty close. I saw the woman was a very handsome woman, well clothed all in buckskin and clean. One of the children was a boy and one was a girl. They were also well dressed, all in buckskin.

This woman said to me, “Poor girl, this is not the place for you especially to be alone. I am sure you are thirsty by this time. Come, we will bring you down to the stream to drink.” Then she told her children, “Do not bother your little sister, she is thirsty and tired.”

While we were going down, the children were playing and laughing and tried to get me to play with them but the mother always stopped then saying “Your little sister is tired so leave her alone.”

William Holbrook - Beard bear and cubs

When we got to the stream we all had a good drink. I was last to finish my drink and when I stood and looked, instead of seeing my little sister and brother and mother there was sitting there a grizzly bear and two cubs. I was afraid. The bear spoke, “Do not be afraid, little child. I am your mother bear and here is your little brother and sister. We will not hurt you.”

Then she told me this: “Listen closely. I am going to give you medicine power by which you will be a great help to your people in the future. This time will come after you pass middle age. But do not try to do more than I am allowing you or granting you because, if you do, it will be nothing more than false and you will be responsible for sufferings and even death. One of my gifts is that you are going to be helpful to women especially those that are having hard times and suffering giving birth of a child.” She said this. Then the grizzly bear mother and her cubs took me back to my people.

Preston, Cree Narrative

In Giving Voice to Bear, North American Indian Myths, Rituals, and Images of the Bear. David Rockwell.

 

In this story, Sdipp-Shin-Mah was not  shaman, but, like a shaman, she possessed an animal spirit helper who gave her powers that she used throughout her life. In Indian tribes believes, animal spirits were principally obtained through dreams and visions.

According to various tribal accounts, the bear also knew how to heal himself and so to be a master healer. Thus, many tribes (Cheyenne, Eastern Cree, Penobscot, etc.) have believed that it is possible to learn what plants are beneficial to human health only by watching what the bear eats. They also believed that their Shamans, sometimes called “bear doctor”, received their healing powers from bears. For the Tewa tribe (American Indians), the word kieh, or “doctor”, is even synonymous of “bear” (more in the article The medicinal bear).

Amelie

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