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The woman who fought the Bear

A Winnebago (Hotcâk) Legend

There once was a band of people who were always giving Bear Feasts and came to be blessed by a great Bear Spirit. One member of the band fasted very hard, and made himself very pitiable. Finally, he dreamed and was blessed by a Bear Spirit. The spirit came before him and said, "Human! I bless you with war powers: on your first warpath you shall gain the fourth war honor; on your second, you shall have the third war honor; on your third warpath, you shall achieve the second war honor; and on the fourth warpath you shall achieve the first war honor, and your sisters shall parade through the village with the prize!" He was overjoyed to hear this, but there were yet more blessings. The spirit continued: "Human! I bless you with life: for as long as the Creator gave you to live, that long shall you live; I bless you with the full extent of life given to you. Human! I also bless you with my body: if you pour me a pipe full of tobacco, then you shall not fail to kill a bear on your hunt. Do not abuse the bears, and you shall never want for food. Human! I really bless you. Never before have I blessed anyone in all the eons that I have lain here. As long as your posterity lasts on this earth, that long have you dreamt for them. If they keep up the feasts well, I shall extend to them the same blessings of war and life; and if they offer me tobacco, I shall not fail to accept it. If they offer me a kettle at the feast, I shall accept it with thanks. This single thing I warn you against: if you offer me food or tobacco you must at all costs keep it away from unclean women. It is I, the Chief of Bears, who have blessed you."

Ever since then when the First Bear Moon becomes visible, they would always give a Bear Feast. They would use no meat, but only the produce of the earth. They would always try to obtain the Bear Chief's favorite foods, which he said were maple sugar and blueberries. They would boil in the kettle dried corn and ground green corn, which they would mix with fruit and ground sugar. The feast was held in the dark of night. When all this was accomplished, the host sent his attendant around to invite the guests. When the lodge was filled to capacity, the host arose and said, "Relatives, take a seat here! Greetings to you all! It is not of our own devising that we offer tobacco to the spirits -- this knowledge came to my grandfather from Black Fur (Hîsepga), Chief of the Bears, when he blessed him. Thus we offer a kettle to him. And we make this request: should war come to us may we come away with honors. We also ask for life, as this is what our grandfather dreamt for us, it is said. Thus we give him a pipe full of tobacco, two kettles of food, and some tree sap. Then we shall eat." After the attendant filled everyone's plate, the host arose again and spoke: "Relatives! When the plates are filled, it is time to eat; but do not eat with your right hands." Then the fires were put out, and everyone ate with their left hand in pitch darkness. Another feast just like this one was given in the spring as well.

The following year, the host set aside some choice dried corn so that it could be offered to Black Fur when the Bear Moon first appeared in the sky. This corn was special to him, and he took care that no one would touch it, for he knew that the Bear Spirit was anxious to have it. It chanced that his two unmarried girls had their menstrual periods, and went to the seclusion hut to fast. After the first day of their fast, they were anxious to eat, but as no other food could be found, their mother boiled some of the sacred corn for them, even though they were not clean.

One day their mother was out with her stick tanning a hide near a spring that emerged from blue earth. There her two girls were also. Then, unexpectedly, out of the spring came a powerful bear, and it fell upon the girls and tried to kill them. The mother took her stick and kept stabbing the bear with it, but he paid no attention to her. He just kept attacking the two girls who had defiled the feast. Finally, he killed both the girls, but their mother also stabbed him to death. The bear was covered with blue clay (mâ tco), and they say that it was not an earthly bear, but a Spirit Bear, that came to punish the two girls for eating the feast corn unclean.

Ever since that day, this band has never given another Bear Feast.

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