A legend told by Joseph Guanish, Kawawachikamach translated by Brian Webb
I will tell the legend of the bear. I heard my grandmother tell this one – the one about the bear that lived with a child. This was how she told it.
One time, a black bear began feeling lonely and wished for a human child to care for. He began wandering around through the forest. With his mind and thoughts, the bear could influence things to happen and make people do exactly what he wanted.
At a camp, a mother and her son decided to go gather berries. The two of them left and headed to an area where there had been a forest fire years before since there were sure to be many berries there. As the bear wandered around, he noticed the woman and her young son picking berries in the distance.
The bear stopped and gazed at them. He made a wish on the mother. “I wish for you to leave your child because you will look for another patch of berries.” His ponderings always seemed to work for him. As soon as he thought this, the woman said, “Son, stay here and play. There are too many mosquitoes over there. I’ll go there by myself and pick berries so I can be quick.” The mother left. The bear had envisioned all this to happen.
The mother disappeared from sight and the bear approached the little boy. As he got closer, he wished that the boy would not fear him. Of course, the bear’s thoughts influenced the boy. The little boy was frightened at first but the bear allowed the boy to sit on his shoulders. He wished for the boy to stop crying. He pretended to play with the little boy. Suddenly, the bear bolted and ran far with the boy still sitting on his back. The bear ran far and the boy was having a great time as he held on.
When they got far, the bear stopped. He began eating berries and so did the boy. The little boy forgot about his mother.
After picking berries, the mother went back for her son. She could not find him. She kept calling and calling for him. From the spot where she had left her son, she noticed the tracks of a bear. Her mind raced with images of her son being killed by the bear. “The bear must’ve run off with my little son’s body.” She returned back to camp and told her husband the bad news.
The couple found it difficult to leave the area where they had last seen their son. Autumn arrived and they still hoped to find their son. The season changed to winter and the sad couple still stayed in the same area.
The bear did live with the boy. The bear announced to the boy, “I shall build our lodge.” He began making a lodge. To the boy, it seemed to look like a teepee. After finishing the lodge, the little boy went in and saw that it was a normal teepee.
The bear began bringing sacks of all kinds of meat, such as porcupine, beaver, caribou, and ptarmigan, into their lodge. Each one was in a separate sack. The boy had totally forgotten about his mother and the bear and the child lived together.
Back at the parents’ camp, the husband said to his wife, “I have a hunch that our son is alive. I believe that the bear did not kill our son. I see him in my dreams and I worry about him.”
At the bear’s camp, the bear always had only one log in the fire. The bear said to the boy, “If this log burns and breaks in two, it’ll be a long winter.” And if this happened, they would be feasting. I wonder how their feast would be. The boy stayed at their camp but it seemed that he couldn’t play much.
The husband told his wife to make their son’s clothes. The man began making a bow, arrows and snowshoes for their son. “I’ll try to find him,” he said to his wife. The woman was delighted to hear her husband say this and quickly began making clothes for their lost son. The man also carved snowshoes and arrows.
When they finished making all the things for their son, they bundled them all together. “When the sun rises, I’ll go in search for our son,” said the husband. The woman was so pleased to see her husband believe that their son was still alive.
As soon as the morning sun rose, the man picked up all the bundle of belongings they had made for their son and left. The bear knew that the child’s belongings had been prepared. The bear explained to the child, “Your father instructed your mother to make clothes for you and he had made snowshoes and a bow. He will come looking for you.” That same morning, the bear told the child that his father was coming directly this way. “I shall miss you, my grandson. I shall miss you when your father finds you and takes you away.”
The bear began trying to distract the man on his search. He took his sack of ptarmigan meat and placed it near the hearth. This was to deter the man from coming towards them. As the man walked, he came upon a great number of ptarmigan. He stood there for a long time watching the birds. He thought, “When I come back, I’ll shoot my arrows at them. They’ll slow me down because of where I want to go.”
The bear could sense that the man ignored the ptarmigan and continued walking towards them. “Your father didn’t even bother with the ptarmigan. If he did, it would take him longer to get here. He didn’t even bother to shoot an arrow at them.” The man knew that the bear was putting obstacles to slow him down. It seemed as though the bear was giving food away.
Then the bear took his sack of porcupine meat and placed it near the hearth. As the man walked through the forest, he saw many trees where the bark had been gnawed by porcupine. He didn’t even bother with the porcupine. “They’ll be a hassle to carry around. I’ll club them when I come back.” The bear knew that this distraction was unsuccessful as well. The bear explained to the boy, “He knows that you’re still alive. But your mother had thought that I had killed you from the spot I took you with me.” The man left the porcupine and continued walking in the same direction.
This time, the bear took his sack of beaver meat and placed it near the hearth. As the man walked along, he found a beaver lodge. He did not even bother to mark it with a small tree. He thought, “I’ll mark it when I come back.” The bear’s attempt was unsuccessful yet again.
These legends were told to put children to sleep. My grandmother would ask, “Am I putting you to sleep?” I’d say, “No. This is too interesting.” Legends were told to lull children to sleep.
“Your father is still coming for us,” said the bear to his grandchild.
This time, the bear took the sack of dried caribou meat and placed it near the hearth. As the man walked, he came across fresh caribou tracks. The man thought, “It’ll get too dark where I want to go. I’ll get them when I come back. I won’t disturb them now.”
“Your father is still coming towards us,” said the bear. “We cannot defeat your father. We used up all what we could use to distract him.”
The bear lied down and put his feet up with his toes sticking up. As the man walked, the forest became so thick. He could not go around the thick forest. The man was not deterred. He went straight through and maneuvered his snowshoes to get through.
The bear began giving instructions to his grandson. “When your father kills me, do not eat from me. Instead, when the people are hungry, go up a mountain, you shall see the smoke from our dens. With the biggest smoke coming from a bear den, go to that one. The bear in that den will be good.”
Then they could hear the man walking towards their lodge. The boy shuffled towards the back of the lodge. His grandfather had told him to do this so that he would not get hit if the man shoots an arrow at the bear. The man did not shoot an arrow at the bear. He clubbed him instead. The boy watched as his dead bear grandfather was dragged out.
His father waited for him to come out but the boy did not stir. The man announced, “There is nothing else in here even though I was expecting something.” The man peeked in and the boy called out, “Father, I am here.”
“My son, I’m so remorseful for what I have done. Why did you not say anything as I killed your grandfather? You too would’ve stayed here for the winter and would have eventually changed into the form of the bear.” He handed his son the clothing and the boy got dressed. The father and son headed back home.
Back at camp, the woman really did see her son finally come back with her husband. This was the way this legend was told.
When the boy grew up and lived in other camps, he would kill a big fat bear when the people became hungry. He followed the advice of his grandfather. “The bear will be a good one if you get it from a den that has big, clearly visible smoke. Be sure to only go to the dens that have these types of smoke.” This is what the bear had said.
Translator’s note: The smoke from the bear den is the steam produced by a sleeping bear that wafts out during cold winter days.