The bear is one of the strongest of all creatures and Native people from the North East of Canada, where I come from, consider the bear as very close to Great Spirit. It’s the animal associated with the energy of the West cardinal point. Our legends say that Creator created other creators that created other creators, that created what we have on earth, but that the bear comes straight from Great Spirit, like humans do. Actually, if you take the skin off a bear, and hang up the carcass without the outer fur, very strangely it resembles a human being. The bear is like the human in respect that it can eat anything, it has a very varied diet: it can eat roots, leaves, larva, honey, meat, it knows all the medicine herbs and roots, it eats anything, just like Man.
It is very gentle, yet very powerful. It has the ability to delve deep into itself when it hibernates in the winter, and that is really a symbol of how we can delve into ourselves to learn from within, and be connected from within with Great Spirit and the world of spirit. This is a lesson that the bear teaches us every winter, how to go within, when the circumstances around us are not ideal, how we can always find what we need to go through and beyond these difficulties by going within.
The bear is the medicine teacher: the First Nations learned about the medicine, what plants could heal and help with different ailments, by following the bear around, because he knew exactly what herbs to eat when he had any health problems. Actually, most of the legends that speak about how healers learned the medicine talk about this being brought to the people by the bear.
So, the bear is one of the most important animals in our culture, there is always a Bear Clan in all nations. From the bear clan come the spiritual leaders, and also teachers and healers, and ceremonial tradition guardians. The people that come from the Bear Clan are often solitary people also. Because of their deep understanding of the medicine they can undertake such functions, and have the ability to be wisdom keepers for the people.