Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Moksgm'ol, The Spirit Bear

One day, a little boy asked his father "Why is it that all of the bear people that we have seen are black and brown? Why are there no White Bear people?" To the little boy all the creatures of the woods were a kind of people, and his father replied, "My son, there are indeed White Bear People. We have learned from our ancestors that in the beginning of time, "Whe-Ghet," the Raven, decided to leave a reminder that once the land was white with ice and snow. To do this he set an island aside to be home of the White Bear People, then went among the black and brown bears and made every tenth one white, and he decreed that they would never leave this island for here they could live in peace forever."

People were wondering why a giant Coca-Cola bear was part of the Winter Olympics opening night ceremonies. This wonderful icon was meant to represent the Spirit Bear, otherwise known as the Kermode bear. Spirit Bears are local treasures, and live only in the temperate rainforests of British Columbia. Spirit Bears are a subspecies of Black Bears and are not Polar Bears. Because of their ghost-like appearance, Spirit Bears hold a prominent place in the mythology of the Canadian First Nations. It is the belief of the First Nations that the white bear was put on the planet by the creator to remind us of the age when much of the land was covered by glaciers.

This wonderful painting is called "Salmon Watch - Spirit Bear" by Canadian artist Robert Bateman. I have never been fortunate enough to see a Spirit Bear. A few years ago I was visiting friends in northern British Columbia, and my hosts asked me if I would like to see a Spirit Bear. "Sure...!" So we went to the one place where folks are certain to see lots of bears -- the city dump. Unfortunately all we saw were dozens of regular Black Bears, scrounging around for their evening meal, and the Spirit Bear eluded us.

Spirit Bears are protected in British Columbia, and one of the Olympic mascots, Miga, is part Spirit Bear, part Killer Whale -- an interesting combination, to say the least. So, that's why the giant Coca-Cola Spirit Bear was represented at the opening ceremonies.

Cheers,

27 comments:

Canarybird said...

That's interesting Jo. I hadn't seen Bateman's Spirit Bear painting although I have bought several small postcard replicas of his work. When talking to my daughter in Calgary the other day about the Olympic opening ceremonies she mentioned that my grandson (a year older than Phinnaeus) had done an essay recently in school about the Spirit Bear, so he knew all about it when he saw it. Am enjoying watching the events on TV even though they are 8 hours later into the night.

PinkPanthress said...

Please, please tell me that's a joke... oh... I'm so ashamed of people's ignorance.

Let's say for a moment, that people don't know about the spirit bear, how comes they think of it as a 'coca cola' bear first, before even thinking of it as an ice bear, it's Canada after all! :(

This makes me sad!

Teri said...

I love Bateman's paintings. They look more like that perfect photo than a painting. His details are incredible!

I've gone by the island (Royal?) a couple times while a passenger of DH's ship. And drat it, even tho I was watching - camera in hand, I didn't get to see any. Well maybe next time!

Laurie said...

Love the Bateman painting and the Spirit Bear legend. Like PinkPanthress, I certainly hope no one was thinking "Coca Cola Bear". I certainly didn't and I have an actual stuffed Coca Cola bear in my white bear collection. Lots o' spirit at my house! :-)

Alissa said...

Very cool. I never new about spirit bears before. The only white bears I knew of were polar bears.

People seriously thought the spirit bear in the Olympics was a Coca-Cola bear? Really? Though, I have read somewhere that the traditional red-suited Santa image is pretty much all Coke's doing.

Alicia said...

Hi Jo,
I figured it had to do with First Nations and spirituality. I also saw a wonderful segment with Mary something, she's one of the commentators and it was about polar bears, it was very interesting. (I'm embarrassed I don't know her name as she's awesome!)

SINCERITY said...

That is so cool! (no pun intended) I never knew about the Spirit Bear. Thanks for sharing!

Amy said...

Wow, Jo, I never would have connected Coca Cola with that bear. And I love the story of the Spirit Bear. Are they considered albino? I've seen albino deer before, but never a bear!

There was a segment on polar bears last night on the Olympics, but we fast forwarded through it - it's difficult to watch everything, but it sure is fun!

houndstooth said...

Oh cool! This is the first time I've heard the legend of the spirit bears!

Aimee said...

Aaah, being from Australia, I don't know much about Canada's history. I loved the opening ceremony...thought it was very 'mod' and the bear was gorgeous! I can understand though, why people would think it was the polar bear...the spirit bear would have been taken more seriously I think, had it been settled into a different standing position, perhaps on all fours...because it looked like all it wanted was a hug, the way it was standing stiffly with its arms and belly out.

my two cents ;)

x
Aimee
http://myflutteringheart.blogspot.com

tinkerbell the bipolar faerie said...

I love Spirit Bear ~ s/he is breathtakingly beautiful. Did you know that BC will open hunting season for bears very soon? Pffffffhhhht!! Why do we allow this to continue, I wonder?

On a happier note ~ I find the pure joy of the olympic spirit quite contagious. While I originally did not embrace the games because of their enormous expense, it is awesome to see so many people from all over the world converge on our fair city. And, like thousands of others, I did the "pilgrimage" to the olympic torch. Not sure what all the fuss is about that darned fence ~ I got a fabulous shot.

I would happily email a copy to you or anyone else who wants one.

Country Girl said...

I also wasn't aware of the Spirit Bear so thanks for the lesson.

VioletSky said...

I guess with Coke being a sponsor, some peoples imagination doesn't extend too far.

Cloudia said...

This awesome post gave me goose bumps!



Aloha, Jo


Comfort Spiral

tinkerbell the bipolar faerie said...

re: torch ... i've edited the shot .... here it is.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I always learn something here!

Michelle said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, very important to our Canadian culture which is so rich and diverse. It would be nice for the Olympics if Spirit Bear would cool the weather down a bit for the Vancouver Olympics !! Michelle

Susan said...

Thanks for the story. And your attempt to see a spirit bear reminds me of my drive through Nova Scotia and Maine, hoping to see a moose.
Never did.
But when I got home to Connecticut, a moose was walking up the road.
Life is strange.

A Woman said...

I loved the Spirit Bear in the opening ceremonies as well as your story. Many of the tribes in northern California have bear spirits and consider them the great healer or protector. Canada is a fascinating place. I've flown over it to and from Alaska, but have only visited once as a very young child.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I love that Canada honors its First People. In the US, Native Americans are the most disadvantaged people of all; the schools, health care and general standard of living on the reservations are the worst in the country, and there is a disproportionately high rate of diabetes and alcoholism among these descendants of the true Americans, many of whom endure lives of despair.

I have never seen a Spirit Bear, but I have no doubt that they are beautiful creatures. Remember, when the seeker is ready, the Spirit Bear appears.

Carol E. said...

I hope some time you can see a Spirit Bear in a setting similar to the painting, and not at a town dump!

(And i ditto what PinkPanthress said.)

leilani said...

Wow Jo interesting! I love reading about things like this! Our ancestors respected our wildlife alot more than we do today. That being in the Olympics was awesome!

Katy said...

Wow. What a beautiful animal. I never knew about the spirit bear before. I loved seeing the first nations in the opening ceremonies. I have to admit that was my favoriate part.

Brenda said...

Thanks for the information about the Spirit Bear. I wouldn't have known that if I didn't read it here!

Brenda said...

Thanks for the information about the Spirit Bear. I wouldn't have known that if I didn't read it here!

Paula Slade said...

Charming legend!

Spirit Bear said...

That was a great telling of the Spirit Bear story and thank you for clarifying the "coca cola" myth.

If any of your readers would like to learn even more about these amazing bears, visit our website of our First Nation owned and operated eco-cultural tourism company. We have lots of information about the bears and the conservation efforts to protect the rare and elusive white Spirit Bear. www.spiritbear.com

Sean Kerrigan
Operations and Marketing
Spirit Bear Adventures