June 22, 2013 by Jerry Alatalo
Very early in life Bear Heart was shown and learned what the word respect meant. He was especially reminded to have respect for the elders. If an elder came to his family’s house he or she was first offered a chair and a meal.
If there was nothing to eat we would offer him some water. He would never touch any item that belonged to an elder man or woman. He would never speak before the elder was through talking. He was advised to never wait to help an elder, not for any thanks or blessing, but because the elders are to be respected.
Bear Heart said “When you have respect for the elders, it extends to everything else, including all of nature and its life forms.”
He describes how elders used psychology to teach by telling stories to each other when the children were “asleep”. There was no television so the stories were the children’s entertainment. He learned a lot of things when he was “asleep”. The stories told him what was proper and what was improper behavior. Lessons about life.
His uncle told him about how long ago his people formed a council with the four-leggeds, the creatures of the water, and the winged. They gave offerings and said “Our relatives, we have great need for you in order to live. When we hunt we’ll try to kill you quickly so that you will not suffer. In time our bodies will lie down inside this Mother Earth and something will grow there so that our animal relatives can sustain their own lives. A cycle will be formed, an exchange, for the continuation of all life. In this way, we ask how to make our people well from the sickness you cause.”
As long as we kept our word, no sickness came. The animals led them to cures for the illnesses and allowed them to hunt because they knew the people were not killing for sport. “Never kill out of anger or for sport to see how many animals you can kill. Take just enough for survival and always be respectful of the four-leggeds. If you must kill, present an offering and talk to the animal, explaining, ‘I need you for my family.'”
He was shown the anatomy of animals so that the kill would be swift and the animal would not suffer more than it had to. His first kill was given to an elder and this showed the proper respect for the animal.
Bear Heart talks about killing his first squirrel at age eight. He told the squirrel “I will not let you suffer a long time, but I need you and the meat that you carry with you. I’m doing it out of love.”
He killed the squirrel with his first shot. Before he picked the squirrel up he made a circular motion over its head and said “Mah-doh” (Thank you). The circle motion represents the circle of life, humans being fed by animals and animals being fed after humans have gone to the Earth. The circle is never-ending.
He shares a time his uncle took him to a pond. His uncle told him to look into the pond and tell him what he saw. “I see my reflection” said Bear Heart. His uncle told him to take a stick and stir up his reflection. His uncle asked him what he now saw and he replied that his face was all distorted. His uncle asked him if he liked what he now saw. He replied that it’s not supposed to look that way.
Bear Heart’s uncle then taught him some wisdom. “When you meet someone and you immediately dislike them, always remember you are seeing a reflection of yourself. There is something about yourself that you’re not owning up to. When you see it in someone else, then you don’t like that person, but in reality you are being displeased with yourself. Always remember that.”
At this point Bear Heart mentions that his uncle had never heard the word psychology.
His uncle taught him how to approach those who were born deformed in some way. “Some children are born deformed, perhaps without arms or legs, or disfigured on their face somehow. Maybe one side of the eye is totally missing, all covered up with flesh. It’s our teaching, and we’re very strict about it, to never stare at someone who has a deformity. Just look to one side and try not to keep looking at them. The reason is that whatever caused the deformity is going to think you like it so much that maybe it will cause your child to be born that way. Accept the child. They may look different, but they’ve got a heart just like you have; they have feelings just like you have. Play with them. Make them laugh if you can.”
Bear Heart explains how the title “The Wind Is My Mother” came about. His dad was of the Bear Clan and his mother was of the Wind Clan. So the Bear is his father and the Wind is his mother.
He then recalls an old man and his interpreter at a gathering. His interpreter stood up and spoke the words of the old man’s heart. “This is what I’ve been instructed to relay to you people. Our chiefs sit here, thinking back on the many gatherings like this held in times past. At that time he had elders he could talk with and things were good, but one by one they all left and today he’s cloaked in the coat of loneliness. But by your coming he has opened that coat and his arms reach out to each one of you with gratitude, because you make things lively again around here. It puts joy in his heart to hear laughter, to hear voices, to hear little children playing. This is why these ceremonies were set forth-so that we could thrive and help one another make a future for our children. Today, he says, ‘My heart is full because you helped to fill in those empty spaces.’ ”
Bear Heart then mentions “that’s the kind of speeches they made.”
Do not hesitate to help fill others’ empty spaces.
Continued in Part 4…