Thomas Doty – Storyteller
Mythology of Bear
Mister Bear's Dance
To the Takelmas, Great Bear in the Sky — Ursa Major, the Big Dipper — controls the seasons. His sky lodge is as much a part of the native mythological landscape as anything here on earth.
After learning to fly from watching migrating swans, Bear soared among the stars. He built his lodge and lit a fire in the center. As he danced counter-clockwise, the seasons began to circle through the year. In the night sky, we still watch Bear's ancient dance. His fire blazes as the North Star. Traditionally, Takelmas dance counter-clockwise to honor Great Bear in the Sky, and to keep the seasons in their proper order. During the Ghost Dance of the 1870s, Bear's dance was reversed in an effort to mess up the seasons and encourage recently-settled Europeans to leave.
Over the centuries, Bear clans developed not only among the Takelmas but also among native neighbors who recognize the seasonal power of Mister Bear. Medicine people within these clans are the earthly guardians of the seasons and responsible for the rain rocks found in villages throughout the region. Rain rocks are decorated with carved bear paws as well as depressions for catching rain water. To stop the rain, the rock is covered with a large blanket. To bring rain, the blanket is removed. A famous rain rock sits outside the museum in Fort Jones, California.
Native people remember the story and dance counter-clockwise as they continue to honor Great Bear in the Sky.