Bear People

A recent radio story talked about how a man approached a wild bear because he wanted take a photo with him and the bear.

The story continued that folks just don’t understand that bears aren’t like Paddington, Smokey and Yogi. The bear most likely won’t smile and pose for the camera.

Last month some hikers encountered a female bear and her cubs in Yellowstone and the bear killed the man. Yellowstone officials said that such actions are rare and this was the first park fatality involving a bear since 1986.

That’s one in 25 years.

Compare that to car-related deaths, which are about 120 per day.

In the Northwest, reporters are following the story of an Idaho man who killed a grizzly who ventured into his yard where kids were playing. Because grizzlies are a threatened species, the federal government is pressing charges.

Our love affair with mammals offers fodder for discussion. We personalize—anthropomorphize—bears and tigers and sea lions and penguins and the list goes on. I like to hear the stories from the Osage and Lakota people who had a respect for wildlife and didn’t try to befriend or tame them.

My ancestors on the Lakota side were known as the Bear People. Their leader was my great great great great great grandfather, Mahto Tatonka (Bull Bear). Traders convinced Bull Bear to move with a hundred lodges of Bear People to the North Platte River in 1835, according to my cousin, John Artichoker.

After moving to the Platte, the Oglalas split into two factions, led by Bull Bear and Smoke (Shota).

In The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman writes that Bull Bear was cantankerous and cultivated a host of enemies, and was, “in his rude way, a hero.” Parkman writes that “No chief could vie with him in warlike renown, or in power over his people. He had a fearless spirit, and a most inflexible and impetuous resolution. His will was law.”

Be wary of Bear People.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, Francis Parkman, journalism, Osage and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bear People

  1. Pingback: Pets for Supper? | Cynthia Coleman Emery's Blog

  2. lifeasanasandpranayamamama says:

    Hello, relative! Mahto Tatonka is my 5th great grandpa too👋🏽


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