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Bears' Lodge


Native American Indian Lore

Bears' Lodge

A story told by the Kiowa People in Wyoming and South Dakota, and by other tribes

One day long ago a traveling party of the Kiowa People were crossing the great prairie and camped by a stream. Many of the Bear People lived nearby, and they smelled the Kiowa People. The Bear People were hungry, and some of the bear warriors went out to hunt the Kiowa People.

Seven young girls from the Kiowa camp were out gathering berries, up along the stream, far from the campsite. The Bears came upon them and growled to attack. The girls ran and ran, out across the open prairie, until they came to a large gray rock. They climbed onto the rock, but the bears began to climb the rock also.

The girls began to sing a prayer to the rock, asking it to protect them form the Bear People. No one had ever honored the rock before, and the rock agreed to help them. The rock, who had laid quietly for centuries, began to stand up and reach to the sky. The girls rose higher and higher as the rock stood up. The bear warriors began to sing to the bear gods, and the bears grew taller as the rock rose up.

The bears tried and tried to climb the rock as it grew steeper and higher, but their huge claws only split the rock face into thousands of strips as the rock grew up out of their reach. Pieces of rock were scraped and cut away by the thousands and fell in piles at the foot of the rock. The rock was cut and scarred on all of its sides as the bears fought to climb it.

At last, the bears gave up the hunt, and turned to go back to their own houses. They slowly returned to the original sizes. As the huge bears came back across the prairie, slowly becoming smaller, the Kiowas saw them and broke camp. They fled in fear, and looking back at the towering mountain of rock, they guessed that it must be the lodge of these giant bears. "Tso' Ai'," some People say today, or "Bears' Lodge."

The Kiowa girls were afraid, high up on the rock, and they saw their People break camp and leave them there, thinking the girls had all already been eaten by the bears.

The girls sang again, this time to the stars. The stars were happy to hear their song, and the stars came down and took the seven girls into the sky, the Seven Sisters, and each night they pass over Bears' Lodge and smile in gratitude to the rock spirit.

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Gifts from the Creator for man's use...

The smudging ceremony

By KiiskeeN'tum (She Who Remembers)

KiiskeeN'tum is of mixed Cree and Haudenosaunee (Mohawk) heritage.
You can visit her page by clicking on (She Who Remembers)
or you can e-mail her here.


The burning of various medicine plants to make a smudge or cleansing smoke is used by the majority of Native North American peoples. It is a ritual cleansing.

As the smoke rises, our prayers rise to the Spirit World where the Grandfathers and our Creator reside. Negative energy, feelings, and emotions are lifted away. It is also used for healing of mind, body and spirit, as well as balancing energies.

Our Elders teach us that all ceremonies must be entered into or begun with good intent. So many of us use the smudge as a symbolic or ritual cleansing of mind, body, spirit and emotion. The smell of the burning medicines stimulates our brains to produce beta-endorphins, which are part of the normal healing process of our bodies.

Smudging may also be used to cleanse, purify and bless the part of our Mother, the Earth which we utilize in seeking after the spiritual. For example: around the area used for sweatlodge or powwow. It may also be used to purify or bless special objects or totems, such as jewelry, rattles, clothing or other ceremonial objects.

It is a customary to cleanse, (brush or wash the smoke) over our eyes, ears, mouth, hands, heart and body. Some people choose to brush it over their backs, to 'lighten their troubles'. It is customary to use matches to light the medicines, when available.

Sage: Is seen as a women's medicine, and offers strength, wisdom, and clarity of purpose. It is used to symbolize the life-giving power of women.

Sage is often braided into three strands, similar to Sweetgrass, and hung within one's home. It may be tied with a ribbon in one of the colors of the medicine wheel: Red, yellow, black, white or green.

Cedar: Is used for purification and to attract positive energy, feelings, emotions and for balance. Cedar tea has been used as a healing medicine. It's high vitamin C content was essential to the prevention of scurvy, in a time when fruits and vegetables were unavailable during the long winter months. It was one of the first gifts of natural healing shared with the European peoples upon their arrival to Turtle Island (North America).

Sweetgrass: Is used by almost all Aboriginal peoples in North America. It is a ritual cleansing. The smoke rises, as our prayers rise above us to our Creator, the Grandfathers, and the Spirit World.

Sweetgrass was one of the four original "medicine plants" given by the Creator to the first peoples. The others being Tobacco, Cedar, and Sage.

We cleanse our eyes so that they will see the truth around us, the beauty of our Mother, the Earth, the gifts given us by our Creator, the love shared with us through our families, friends and communities.

We cleanse our mouth, that all we speak will be truthful, said in a way that will empower the positive, only good things, always full of words of praise and thanksgiving for our Creator.

We cleanse our ears, so that our ears will hear the spiritual truths given us by our Creator, listen to the truth as it is shared with us by the Creator, the Grandfathers, Four Directions, Four Kingdoms, and be open to the request for assistance from others, to hear only the good things and allow the bad to 'bounce off'.

We cleanse our hearts so that our hearts will feel the truth, grow with us in harmony and balance, be good and pure, be open to show compassion, gentleness and caring for others.

We cleanse our feet so that our feet will seek to walk the true path, seek balance and harmony, lead us closer to our families, friends, community, walk closer to our loved ones and help us flee our enemies, and lead us closer to our Creator.

In some places, it is the custom to exclude a pregnant women so that all her energies may be directed towards nurturing the new life within her. In others, she must participate, as her strength is shared and multiplied by the new life within her. If in doubt, seek out the Elder and ask for direction.

In some places, a woman on her moon time (menstrual time) is asked to remain outside the circle during any ceremony. In others she may sit inside but not partake of the Sweetgrass. Again, seek out an Elder and ask for guidance.

The author's grandmother's simplest explanation of Sweetgrass was that it chased away all the negative energy, feelings and emotions, and left a well, or open space, into which happiness can enter.

The lesson Sweetgrass teaches us is kindness. When Sweetgrass is walked upon, it bends, but does not break. So one of the lessons of Sweetgrass is that when someone does us an injustice or hurts us, we are to return it with kindness, as does the Sweetgrass, by bending, not breaking when it is walked upon. It is often referred to as the hair of our Mother, the Earth.

It is not customary to purchase it. One goes out and picks it during August. If this is impossible for whatever reason, one may ask to exchange gifts with someone who has a supply. If both these are impossible, and the need is great, it is acceptable to purchase some for a friend or spouse, and exchange, with each one using the other's. Medicines are supposed to come to you when you are ready to use them in the right way.

A woman on her time may not pick Sweetgrass. It is customary to remove any metal, rings, watches, glasses, etc. (except those which cannot be physically removed), prior to the use of any smudge. Metal is man-made, and seen to hold negative energy. Some people choose to smudge these objects on a regular basis to remove any residual energy.

Tobacco: Is held as a scared plant by all Native North American people. It is believed that Tobacco opens the door between the Worlds of Earth and Spirit and used in many ways by Aboriginal peoples all over Turtle Island.

If tobacco is offered and accepted, and a request made of the person accepting it, that promise is sacred. It is a commitment or promise not only between the people involved, but with our Creator and the Grandfathers of the Spirit World. It must be honored.

Tobacco may be carried around and used as a means of thanking our Creator for his gifts. For example, if you enjoyed a sunset, rainbow, good weather, you might leave some Tobacco on the ground, and say thank you for the gift. If you take a gift, gather Sweetgrass, Cedar, Sage, birchbark, stones, herbs, you might leave Tobacco in the ground to honor the gift you are taking, returning energy and prayer to our Mother, the Earth, and thanks to the Creator.

Tobacco need not be smoked. In fact, it should be smoked only by certain people on specific occasions, for example, pipe carriers during ceremonies.

Tobacco, or any smudge, may be burned in an earthen-ware bowl, large clam shell, in a fire or fireplace or other object during periods of prayer and meditation. As the smoke rises, so do our prayers rise to the Spirit World and the Creator.

Women on their moon do not use, carry or touch Tobacco, or any other medicine plant or herb. One exception is women's Sage, which may be used by all.

How the Buffalo Were Released on Earth

In the first days a powerful being named Humpedback owned all the buffalo. He kept them in a corral in the mountains north of San Juan, where he lived with his young son. Not one buffalo would Humpedback release for the people on earth, nor would he share any meat with those who lived near him.

Coyote decided that something should be done to release the buffalo from Humpedback's corral. He called the people to a council. "Humpedback will not give us any buffalo," Coyote said. "Let us all go over to his corral and make a plan to release them."

They camped in the mountains near Humpedback's place, and after dark they made a careful inspection of his buffalo enclosure. The stone walls were too high to climb, and the only entrance was through the back door of Humpedback's house.

After four days Coyote summoned the people to another council, and asked them to offer suggestions for releasing the buffalo. "There is no way," said one man. "To release the buffalo we must go into Humpedback's house, and he is too powerful a being for us to do that."

"I have a plan," Coyote said. "For four days we have secretly watched Humpedback and his young son go about their daily activities. Have you not observed that the boy does not own a pet of any kind?"

The people did not understand what this had to do with releasing the buffalo, but they knew that Coyote was a great schemer and they waited for him to explain. "I shall change myself into a killdeer," Coyote said. "In the morning when Humpedback's son goes down to the spring to get water, he will find a killdeer with a broken wing. He will want this bird for a pet and will take it back into the house. Once I am in the house I can fly into the corral, and the cries of a killdeer will frighten the buffalo into a stampede. They will come charging out through Humpedback's house and be released upon the earth."

The people thought this was a good plan, and the next Morning when Humpedback's son, I'nage-utasun'hi came down the path to the spring he found a killdeer with a crippled wing. As Coyote had foreseen, the boy picked up the bird and carried it into the house.

"Look here," the I'nage-utasun'hi cried. "This is a very good bird!"

"It is good for nothing!" Humpedback shouted. "All the birds and animals and people are rascals and schemers." Above his fierce nose Humpedback wore a blue mask, and through its slits his eyes glittered. His basket headdress was shaped like a cloud and was painted black with a zig-zag streak of yellow to represent lightning. Buffalo horns protruded from the sides.

"It is a very good bird," the I'nage-utasun'hi repeated.

"Take it back where you found it!" roared Humpedback!

And his frightened son did as he was told.

As soon as the killdeer was released it returned to where the people were camped and changed back to Coyote. "I have failed," he said, "but that makes no difference. I will try again in the morning. Perhaps a small animal will be better than a bird."

The next morning when Humpedback's son I'nage-utasun'hi, went to the spring, he found a small dog there, lapping at the water. The boy picked up the dog at once and hurried back into the house. "Look here!" he cried. "What a nice pet I have."

"How foolish you are, boy!" Humpedback growled. "A dog is good for nothing. I'll kill it with my club."

I'nage-utasun'hi held tight to the dog, and started to run away crying.

"Oh, very well," Humpedback said. "But first let me test that animal to make certain it is a dog. All animals in the world are schemers." He took a coal of fire from the hearth and brought it closer and closer to the dog's eyes until it gave three rapid barks. "It is a real dog," Humpedback declared. "You may keep it in the buffalo corral, but not in the house."

This of course was exactly what Coyote wanted. As soon as darkness fell and Humpedback and I'nage-utasun'hi went to sleep, Coyote opened the back door of the house. Then he ran among the buffalo, barking as loud as he could. The buffalo were badly frightened because they had never before heard a dog bark. When Coyote ran nipping at their heels, they stampeded toward Humpedback's house and entered the rear door. The pounding of their hooves awakened Humpedback, and although he jumped out of bed and tried to stop them, the buffalo smashed down his front door and escaped.

After the last of the shaggy animals had galloped away, I'nage-utasun'hi, could not find his small dog anywhere. "Where is my pet?" he cried. "Where is my little dog?"

"That was no dog," Humpedback said sadly. "That was Coyote the Trickster. He has turned loose all our buffalo."

Thus it was that the buffalo were released to scatter over all the earth.

(I do not remember where this legend came from but I have been telling this among other stories to schools all over the area as one of my Native American Stories.)

Big Turtle

Many years ago the world had two parts. Animals lived in the lower part, which was was completely covered in water and had no land or soil. Above was the Sky World, where the sky people lived. The Sky World had lots of soil, with beautiful mountains and valleys. One day a girl from the Sky World went for a long walk and became very tired.

"I'm so tired, I need to rest," she said. She sat down under the spreading branches of an apple tree and quickly fell asleep.

Suddenly, there was a rumbling sound like thunder and the ground began to crack. A big hole opened up next to the apple tree.

"What's happening?" screamed the frightened girl. She tried to move but it was too late.

She and the tree slid through the hole and tumbled over and over towards the watery world below.

"Help me! Help me!" screamed the girl. Luckily two swans were swimming below and saw the girl tumbling down from the sky.

"Come on!" yelled one swan. "Let's catch her before she hits the water."

"Okay!" yelled the other.

The swans spread their wings together and caught the girl on their soft feather backs.

"Whew! That was lucky," said the girl. "But what do I do now? I can't get back up to the Sky World and I can't stay on your backs forever."

"We'll take you to Big turtle," said the swans. "He knows everything."

After hearing what happened, the Big Turtle called all the animals in the water world to a meeting. He told them an old story about soil being found deep under the water.

"If we can get some of that soil, we can build an island on my back for you to live on," said the Big Turtle.

"Sounds good to me," said the young girl.

The Otter, Beaver and Muskrat started arguing over who would dive for the soil.

"I'll go," said the sleek Otter, brushing his glossy fur.

"No! I'll go," said Beaver, slapping the water with his big flat tail.

"I'm the best swimmer" said Muskrat "I'll go."

"Aaaachooo!" sneezed the young girl."Guys, guys, would just one of you go. These swan feathers are getting up my nose and making me sneeze".

"Sorry" said the swans.

"That's alright" said the young Sky girl.

Then Toskwaye the little Toad, popped up out of the water. "I'll go. I can dive very deep," she said.

The other animals started laughing and pointing at Toskwaye. "You! You're too small and ugly to help". cried the others, laughing.

"Be quite!" said Big Turtle in a loud, stern voice. "Everyone is equal and everyone will have a chance to try".

The sleek Otter smoothed his glossy fur, took a deep breath and slid into the water. He was gone for a long time before he came up gasping for air.

"It was too deep" he said. "I couldn't dive that far.

"Now it's my turn" said Beaver. He slapped the water with his tail as he disappeared. After a long time he came to the surface again.

"It's too far" he gasped. "No one can dive that deep."

Muskrat tried next and failed. "Aaaachoo!" sneezed the young girl. "This is not looking good"

"Now it's my turn" said little Toskwaye the Toad. She took a deep breath and jumped into the water. She was gone a very long time and everyone thought they wouldn't see her again.

Suddenly Otter pointed at the water, shouting "Look, look! Bubbles!"

Toskwaye's small, ugly face appeared through the water. She spat a few grains of soil onto the Big Turtle's back, then fell back into the water - dead.

The Turtle ordered the others to rub the soil grains and spread them around on his shell. The grains grew and grew, until a large island was formed - big enough for the girl to live on.

It grew into our world as we know it today. And the descendents of the Sky girl became the Earth's people.

Today, some people say the whole world still rests on Big Turtles back. When he gets tired and changes his position, we have earthquakes.

Toad has not been forgotten either. American native Indians call her "Mashutaha", which means 'Our Grandmother'. No one is allowed to harm her.

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