12 Mar

Today, I would like to share with you a story that has been passed down from generation to generation. Even the stars themselves remember this day. In this story, there are Teachings about respect, reciprocity and selflessness that Grizzly Bear learnt for all of us, long before the time of two-leggeds, so that we wouldn't have to.  

In the book Keepers of The Night by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, there is a version of this story from the Shoshone - Great Basin people. The story I will be sharing with you today has similarities, however, the stars tell it a little bit differently. 

 In the days before humans, Mother Earth gave birth to many different Nations which walk on her surface, fly in the expanse of her skies, swim in the depth of her waters, burrow in the warmth of her lands and even grow from the nutrition within her soils. In the territories around the Great Lakes, or the heart of the Turtle, Black Bear was Chief of all the animals.   

On an early morning walk one day, searching for breakfast, Black Bear came across an ant hill. From high atop the nearby mountain, Grizzly Bear sat, watching over the forest.  Grizzly Bear was young in spirit and selfish in the mind. This made it hard for Grizzly Bear to connect deeply with the other beings of the earth. He saw Black Bear having her breakfast of ants and decided that he also wanted to eat ants for breakfast. Running down the mountain he approached Black Bear with the intention to take what he wanted. "I have come to claim this ant hill as my own," Grizzly Bear said. "I am hungry and I want to eat all of these ants myself."  

"Grizzly," Black Bear said, " I have spoken to the Queen of this ant colony. The lives lost for my breakfast will be returned tenfold when the winter snow melts and the flowers bloom in the spring. We must remember the laws of reciprocity. A new treaty has been established between the insect kingdom and the animals. However, I will share my breakfast with you in good faith. I see you are hungry." 

 Consumed by greed, Grizzly Bear rose onto his hind legs and roared, "Share? You intend to give me your scraps! The need for reciprocity means nothing! These treaties are pointless, step out of the way Chief or fight me! I don't want to share with you."

 Black Bear was not as big as Grizzly, but she stood her ground. As Chief, it was her responsibility to uphold the natural laws and treaties established by the Nations for coexisting in a good way. And, Grizzly Bear had lost his sense of self awareness. 

Grizzly Bear swung his great paw with its sharp claws at Black Bear, but she was too quick for him. She dodged his blows and struck back again and again. Before long, Grizzly Bear was defeated. Grizzly Bear lay on the ground, frozen with shock. He couldn't believe how he had let greed consume him so as to attack his Chief. 

"Grizzly Bear, you have shown a great lack of respect, and humility today and have broken the laws Creator gave to us. For that you must go and never return to this forest. I encourage you to seek out the teachings you need to live your life in a good way." Black Bear instructed. 

With tears in his eyes, Grizzly Bear shuffled away towards the Great Mountain that touches the Sky World. When he reached the mountain's edge he knew he was meant to reach its summit. He climbed higher and higher and as he climbed the blanket of night crept up over the Sky World. However, Grizzly Bear did not stop climbing. He was determined to make it to the summit of the mountain and there he would rest. Those tears that had filled his eyes began to fall now. They flew into the wind, creating a torrent of snow which bellowed around him in a flurry. Grizzly Bear could no longer see where he was going and still he kept climbing. It was dark and cold all around him now. Grizzly Bear shook the crystallized tears off his tired body, creating a shimmer of light within the darkness as the snowflakes glistened from the light of Grandmother Moon. 

Overwhelmed with the feelings of sadness and loneliness, Grizzly Bear wished that there could be one last thing he could do for his people, something that would show them he was sorry and that he had learnt from what he had done. 

That night,  the many Nations of Mother Earth held a circle to discuss what had happened that day.  Eagle flew down to sit on a high branch in the White Pine, "Look to the Sky World Black Bear!" They told her.  Everyone looked up into the night sky with wonder. There was now what looked to be a trail of snow, dancing across the Sky World. There were seven stars at the end, forming the shape of a Great Grizzly Bear. 

"How could this be?" asked Muskrat. How did Grizzly Bear make it up into the Sky World?" "That trail," Black Bear said, "is made up of the thousands of tears Grizzly Bear cried on his journey up the Great Mountain. It has marked the path that all of us must follow on the day we leave Mother Earth and travel to the Final Hunting Grounds. Though he was banished from our forest, Grizzly Bear has done one last thing for our people and future generations. He has shown us the way into the Sky World and waits for us at its end so that we may arrive safely when our time comes.” 

And so it was that Grizzly Bear created the Milky Way to guide those back home to the Sky World and into the Final Hunting Grounds.