Kinnikinnik (Bearberry) Flowers
Kinnikinnik (Bearberry) Flowers
Bear Berry vine by beach
Bear Berry vine by beach
Bearberry (Kinnikinnik) Berries
Bearberry (Kinnikinnik) Berries

Kinnikinnik: GIFT OF THE BEAR

Gift in Spirit from "Directions We Know: Walk in Honor"
Written by Grandmother Keewaydinoquay, Ojibway and Ahmeekogendah

According to the tales of the Midewiwin, the first council of the Mide spirits was held at the Center of the Earth and it was called by the upper air spirits to ask the help of the under earth spirits in saving a strange, unfurred animal named mankind.

Otter and Bear were chosen to push the first Tree of Life pole (Grandmother Cedar) from the Earth's Center through the surface, forming the first channel of communications between Above and Below.

"Hurry Up!" called Otter down the crack in the earth where the top of the pole had first appeared.

"My fur is drying out in the warm winds Above. Give your best effort." So Bear gave one last mighty heave with his giant muscles. The earth trembled, and the first Tree of life emerged in the sunlight, quickly followed by Bear himself.

"Come on," urged Otter, "we have done as they told us. I am anxious to return Below."

"Not so fast there," growled Bear. He lifted his great head and curiously sniffed the warm smells of Above.

"I would see this unfurred creature for whom the whole council was concerned."

"Very well," bobbed the agreeable Otter, "but make it snappy." The two totem animals did not have far to look. They came upon a cluster of the unfurred creatures pounding bark. Seeing the totemog, they howled, dropped the bark, and fled--all but one small manchild who could not even stand on his hind legs. Bear stared at the naked infant.

"No wonder they needed help. No claws, no teeth, no fur. Not even a Berry."

"Not even a WHAT?"

"Not even a berry." Bear pointed down an opening in the manchild's head out of which came wails of people sound.

"No safety berry. Like mine, see?" Bear leaned back his huge head, parting his gleaming jaws, and Otter obligingly peered into the cavern. There, hanging from the back of Bear's throat, was a round, ripe miskomin! (rose-colored berry).

"Sure enough," said Otter. "What do you do with it?"

"What do I do with it?" That's the Last Berry. It holds all the other berries I've eaten before down inside. And I never starve because the Last berry is always there."

Otter slid impatiently into the water.

"I don't really understand why anyone would eat berries." he called, "but if you think that manchild needs one---give him one and hurry up."

Bear crunched down on his great buttocks and slid down to the dune to the beach. Behind him, where his rump had opened up the sand, there grew a long vine with shinning leaves and little round berries just like the one in Bear's mouth. Bear reached over, yanked off a berry, and bopped it into the wailing manchild's mouth.

"There now," he rumbled in tender bear tones, "you shall not starve. You have a bear berry too."

The astonished infant was still, trying to keep his bear berry down. (That is what babies are doing when you see them silently swallowing. In swallowing, trying to keep their bear berries down.) The warm sunlight of Above shone upon the new bearberry vine and upon the plunge circles in the water as Otter and Bear returned to Below.

Bahmbtah-benahsee, (Tom-Tom Bird), who had seen everything that happened, flew to the Tree of Life. Carefully he positioned his grabbing toes into the oil bard. Then he threw back his handsome hammer head and beat out the first rhythm ever sounded on cedar. It said:

Bare Bear Behree
Paposse gotta
Bare Bear Behree
Gift of the Bear

In Honor of Grandmother Keewaykinoway,
Woman of the North West Wind

Bear Totem Bearberry (Kinnikinnik) Berries Otter Totem
These clear, beautiful GIFs were made by Bearded Wolf.

We post this story, Kinnikinnik: Gift of the Bear, Copyright TOUCH THE EARTH FOUNDATION, 1998-2002, with written permission. All rights reserved.

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