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Bear Clan Origin Myth

A Winnebago (Hotcâk) Legend

There exist several versions of the Bear Clan Origin Myth:

Version 1.

The spirits met at a long lodge in the East to discuss populating the Earth. Earthmaker wished to put a particular Bear on Earth, but it was already headed that way on its own initiative. When the Bear appeared, the winds stopped and the day stood still. As the Bear walked towards the Creation Council, a great nimbus of lightning formed over his head. Before the lodge of the council stood a sapling. Unexpectedly, a storm suddenly struck out of nowhere, and a great lightning bolt consumed the tree. There stood the Bear, and beside him materialized the Spirit of War (Wonághire Uánkcik?). They greeted each other as friends. This is why Bear clansmen have two sides to their bodies: one is the repository of war powers and the other is the dwelling place of the powers of chieftainship. The Bear clansmen from the beginning walked on two legs, but initially they were completely covered with fur. In time, as they traversed the Earth, they lost their fur. Those with whom they traveled would kill and eat a Bear from time to time, but the Bear people would always abstain. However, one day a Bear clansman joined in the feast. When this was reported to the Bear Chief, he declared for all time that because "we have eaten ourselves," the Bear Clan shall henceforth participate with the other clans in feasts.

Version 2.

There were four spirit Bears the youngest of whom came walking across the ocean. When he got near the shore he suddenly turned into a raven and flew onto the littoral. Because he became a raven, the Bear Clan now has the name Kakijigaga, (kaghi - "raven"). Some say that it was in the form of foam that he came to shore and that is why the Bear clansmen have so much life. Then he changed back, and because he changed twice he is one of the greatest of the Bear people. When he walked on the shore at Red Banks he first saw a Wolf clansman and they went together to a lodge each of whose four doors opened onto one of the cardinal points. When they entered the lodge they sat opposite one another. This is why they are friends and call each other, "my opposite."

Version 3.

Ten brothers left their parents and walked across the ocean, headed for the great clan meeting at Red Banks. As they approached the shore, four waves were formed and out of each wave a raven (kaghi) flew up. When the ravens landed on the shore, suddenly they each became a Bear. Those four, because they had changed themselves twice, were the most powerful. As they walked along they saw the tracks of the Wolf clansmen, so they said, "Our friends have gone by." When they went into the assembly lodge, they sat opposite the Wolf people. This is why the Wolf and Bear Clans bury each other. Bear people should paint their faces with red and black pigments. The charcoal should be from the basswood tree. They should paint the women with red on their cheeks and place a black mark in the center of each cheek.

Version 4.

In the beginning there were no humans since Earthmaker had created only animals. In a great council held with all the animals, Earthmaker announced that some of them would be chosen to become human. It was decided that one animal of each of twelve kinds was to be chosen along with his wife. When it came time to name the Soldier, he picked the youngest of the Bears. This Bear's oldest brother has black hair, the second oldest is dark red, and the third of the brothers has blue (tco) hair. Each was a chief in his spirit village. Then, on the appointed day, the youngest Bear and his wife emerged out of the Earth to the North of Green Bay. It was a perfect day. As they went to the place of rendezvous, they heard them say in the distance, "Here come the Soldiers!" With each step they made footprints of luminescent blue like Daylight itself. Thus they have a name, Hâbamanina, "He Who Walks with the Day." As they walked, those who followed him became hungry, so he told them that they could hunt. Now he sent those hunters ahead so that they might have just the right food waiting for them when they camped. That night they made offerings of this food along with red feathers and tobacco for the three brothers that he left behind. He did this because they asked to be remembered of him. When they started again the next day they saw tracks on the ground, and said, "Our friends must have come by." When their friends saw the tracks of the Soldiers, they said the same thing. The Soldiers arrived at last at a great lodge where they met the other chosen animals. They wished to start a fire, but none of them save the Thunder Clan could make one, so that clan was made chief. They called upon the Waterspirits to be chief of the lower division; of the third division, the Soldiers were to be chiefs. They were in charge of discipline. This is the origin of the Bear Clan, who are Soldiers.

Version 5.

After he created all other things, Earthmaker created a man and woman in the South, and he appointed them to be in charge of part of the Day (that is, Life). To the man, he gave charge of all the creatures upon the Earth and in the sky. This man came North from below, and as he came forth a great host of creatures followed after him. The other clans had already gathered at the place of rendezvous, and when they saw them come, they said, "Make room! Our Soldiers have arrived." Then the Soldier spoke to them and said, "What Earthmaker created me for, I am here to do. I will protect and make sacred all the cleared land upon which your village stands; and if you call upon your Soldiers to combat sickness, you shall be made well." For four days the weather was good and no wind blew from any direction. In such wise was the Soldier in charge of things and circling above him were birds of prey sharp in their talons. After four days the clans left for their homes. To this day the Bear is still in command of the people.

Version 6.

There was a hill in the South near a spring of white water. The hill and the waters shook mightily and he who lived in the hill came forth preceded by his attendants. There were eleven men there, and they told him to look about the fields and meadows. So he sent four of his attendants and there they found ripened fruit in abundance, even nuts and beans. However, they returned and excitedly reported to the leader, "Unexpectedly, we came across the footprints of human beings." So the leader told them to make a wider circuit in their explorations and when they did so, they soon found those they sought. It had been the Wolves who made the footprints, and being thus discovered, they said, "It is our friends who have come upon us." The Bears replied, "Friends, let us never disobey one another's words," and for their part the Wolves declared, "It shall always be thus." And they pledged to one another that when anyone among them should die, his opposite would put him in the Earth so that his soul would not be set upon by evil spirit insects. Thus the Bears and Wolves are friends, and even avenge the murder of one another's clansmen. After shaking hands, the Wolves departed to their home, and the Bears returned South. When the Bears came back to this Earth again, they spread out all over the land seeking every kind of ripe fruit. Thus they do to this day.

Version 7.

Hotcâk-English Interlinear Text

Earthmaker he made it (the cosmos). Thus it was taught that Earthmaker did in this way, and so the story began. The story has reached us. Also in this way he made us, and so the story began. "We are to get ready to counsel together." It was the one on the side where it grows cold (the North) who said it. He was one whom the Creator also created in the way he created us. There were four brothers, the eldest was named "Black"; the second, "Red," as he was a red one; the third was a blue/green (tco) one; the fourth, who was the youngest and last, was a white one.

"Our younger brother, how will it be?" This one (said), "I myself say that I am not equal to the task, thus do I believe. My temperament does not approach being equal to the task. Try to say something, as they are about to have a gathering. Try to say something." And, "O elder brother, you have spoken truly, and I too am thus. There I am not equal to the task of finishing this, my dear elder brother, I am not fit." "Alright, our dear elder brother, you have told us to finish this, but for this sort of thing I am not equal to the task; only our younger brother, he alone is clever, our dear elder brother, I believe that it is only our younger brother who is the one." "Alright, our younger brother, he will be the one. Truly have you spoken, our younger brother alone is fit for the task. The announcement of the coming gathering has already been made. We shall council over it right away, in our younger brother we will find refuge, only our younger brother, he alone will be strong in his mind." "Truly you have spoken. He will go on to the Earth, but we will be obliged to remain here and take care of our home. The younger brother, when he speaks, that way is how it will be. Thus it will be. Earthmaker ordained that they should gather together and the lives that we have shall be lived there. Our younger brother will do it. Younger brother, you will be going, so we will ask you to remember us. When you arrive on Earth, you will be going along and if you obtain one of the little offerings, send some back to us. When you start out going, you will go in the guise of Light-and-Life (Hâpdjâre). Now it is his [to do]. You have companions. You have those who travel. You will do it. You will take care to name everyone who is now with you. And when you start going out, after you have arrived at the gathering place, you will name the dog names. Now you will go forth in holiness (wákâtcâk)." And he was the last to start.

"This one, the first one, his name this will be it: the name for the oldest, the first, if he is a man, a male, they will call him by the name, 'Very Black', they will address him. And they will call the second one 'Yellowish Red.' The name of the fourth oldest they shall call 'White Bear.' When there is a girl, they call her by the name, 'She who Walks in Darkness.' And the next one they call 'Daylight as She Walks.' And the next one they call 'She who Thrusts Herself within a Lodge.' And the next one they call 'Visible Footprint Woman,' they call her. And again, in owning a dog, if they wish to keep him, they call him 'Bringer of Fresh Meat.' Yet again, one they style 'Two Bears,' they call him, if they keep him. And again when doing it for a female dog, they style her 'Haksiga (Third Born Female),' they call her. Yet again, a bitch, once they decide to keep it, they style it 'Yellowish Red Female,' they call it, and in this way they will do it," he said.

They started to go to the gathering place. They began to talk. They [at the gathering place] heard them: "Our soldiers are coming. Their speech is audible." In time one landed with a leap. "Our friends have arrived," they said. And they arrived. They arrived at the gathering place. When he got there, they arrived. The Waterspirit Clan had arrived first; the Bird Clan had arrived; the Bear Clan had arrived; the whole group of relatives gathered together, and they made a lodge. They made a great lodge. They finished the lodge and they said -- to those who were first to arrive, the Waterspirit Clan -- they were addressed, "Chief among our kin, how will we proceed? Try to light a fire!" "Hoho, hoho, hagagasgejâ, I cannot do it. I am unable. One among us will do it." They were told that he could not do it. They said, "The one who could start the fire, that one would become chief." Thus they said. They tried to do it. The Thunderbird Clan of the Bird Clan, they could do it. They said that they could start the fire, and so they are the chief. They became glad and the relatives distributed the fire around. And everyone placed the fire it is said. Thus it was at the Creation Council. Everything they were to create, they got done. They were to (ritually) serve the village. The Thunderbird Clan, it was put in charge of the village. They made for him a lodge, they put him in charge, and they obeyed whatever he would say. They said of him, "By this means we got here," they would say to him, and thus they would obey their chief and [this is why] they said it.

When they were to eat, whatever food they brought back, they would look for it themselves. They say that they began to take the food back with them, and the Bear Clan made a rule for themselves: it would make for itself a feast as an offering. For him they give just one kettle, it is a shallow kettle, they say.

Version 8.

It is told that at a large spring there suddenly appeared a Bear whose body was sky-blue and so bright that it seemed like part of the sky itself. This was Blue Bear, and Earthmaker brought him there for a special purpose. Standing to the side of Blue Bear were twelve men. Then, unexpectedly, four times the Earth shook, and each time a great spirit being came up from the Earth. When the third of these emerged, the Earth erupted in fruit of every kind and in plenty it was spread over the Earth. And Earthmaker told Blue Bear that he, and all who were with him, were to go to a gathering at Red Banks. As they tread the Earth, it shook, and the leaves with spiny edges changed to men, and so too the thorns and briars, the serpents with sharp fangs, and the birds of prey with the sharp talons -- all these became men under the charge of Blue Bear. When they arrived, they found that a place had already been prepared for them, but they did not tarry there long. Blue Bear announced that Earthmaker had made these men to be spiritual guardians to ward off evil from the Hotcâgara, for they were all soldiers among the living things of this world. When this was made known, everyone dispersed to their homes, but those who remained behind as men became the Hotcâk Soldier (Bear) Clan.

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