So I read this story today that someone had copy-pasted to Facebook about the Crees and smallpox. I was looking around and found it online too. It’s about my Great Great Grandfather Mistatimwas and how he survived a smallpox epidemic, as told to my Grandpa by his father. I will link to it here.
Basically he talks in very symbolic terms about how they could see this coming, and arriving at a camp of dead Blackfoot, and how his men were dying as they went home and how he collapsed on the way and some boys ran to get his father who doctored him under a bear cub robe. They even talk about where the bear cub robe had come from, his father (my Great Great Great Grandfather) had tamed this bear cub, I assume they had to kill it because it was too dangerous to keep as it got bigger and was too tame to go back to the wild. But they kept this cub’s robe, and this is probably the second time I’ve seen a description in a historical document or oral story about that robe being used to doctor Mistatimwas by his father. His father’s name was Macinam which means The Handsome One. And his father’s wife’s name was Wehwew which my Cree dictionary app says means small goose. This is the first time I’ve seen one of my women ancestors on that side’s names. Anyway, this bear cub robe was used to cure him of smallpox in a ceremony, and then again during the 1885 rebellion when he fought at the Battle of Cutknife Hill he was doctored under a bear robe. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same one, it would make a lot of sense, especially since his father was doctoring him that time too. Both times he was saved from death. I guess that bear cub really loved our family.
The thing is, before I knew about this bear cub robe, I had a dream I was being doctored by a bear cub. It was small and cute and totally non-threatening, it didn’t look like a teddy bear though, it looked like any black bear cub. It was leading a sweatlodge ceremony I was in. Part of that dream was kind of ridiculous because I kept hearing a doorbell like someone was interrupting us and I had to go deal with this door not being answered by my relatives. BUT the part about the bear cub leading the sweat really stayed with me.
There was another time this bear cub showed up. I remember when I was very young and beginning to deal with my depression (which was pretty scary and intense and sad) and my Auntie and Uncle were doctoring me. And I remember my Auntie said she saw a bear cub roll into the room.
White people have pretty much cheapened the concept of spirit animals with all their bullshit “Wine is my spirit animal” shit. BUT it is a real thing for Indigenous people, and bears have been part of our family as guardians for a really long time. I don’t talk a lot about my spiritual side to people who don’t get it, because cynics can be really irritating and that whole racist “You Indians and your woo woo talking animals” thing is so tired. But I’m kind of feeling a bit better about my destiny with this bear cub hanging around. It’s interesting that it’s continuing to do medicine for our family.
The bear cub robe is buried with my Great Great Grandfather, in an unmarked grave so that grave robbers can’t get it. I guess it doesn’t really matter that we can’t hold it or put it over ourselves or use it in ceremony, since that bear cub is still following us and doing something. I don’t know what. I do know I wasn’t depressed for most of high school, after getting doctored a lot for my depression. I do know I’ve managed to avoid death in some really weird fluke ways.
I’ve seen bigger bears in my dreams too though, more often big powerful mother bears who seem to be confronting me like they want me to take something. I’m nervous that I’m being called to do medicine, I don’t know if I can handle that. Maybe there is something else this big bear is wanting. I am always terrified of the bigger ones. I know I have to confront my fears in my dreams and just see what this bear wants. Instead I just keep running and hiding.
But the bear cub, I can deal with that one, that one seems to be able to get close to me.