St’át’imc Grizzly Bear Dancer Shares Her Story


Posted By Toyacoyah Brown March 21st, 2014 Blog


You may have already seen the videos shared online on various YouTube and Facebook pages. A grizzly bear dancer dancing at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Pow Wow.

Photo by Bert Crowfoot - Aboriginal Day Live 2013

Photo by Bert Crowfoot – Aboriginal Day Live 2013

Or perhaps it was the Kamloopa Pow Wow.



Either way the dance was absolutely mesmerizing. I don't know about you, but I had never seen anything like it in my neck of the woods and was wondering a little bit more about the dance and its origins. I reached out to the dancer in the videos and she was willing to share her story as possibly one of the only female Grizzly Bear dancers in the world. Below is a little bit more about her journey.

The Bear and Who am I?

Laura John was born and raised in Lillooet, British Columbia in the Interior Plateau region, she is of St’át’imc descent. Her St’át’imc name is “Stálhalamcen – Grizzly Paws,” She belongs to the people of Xwisten the Bear Clan. At the age of sixteen, Laura began to relearn the St’át’imc traditions as her passion grew stronger in education, and the heritage of her people became a way of life.

Her education background consists of a Masters of Education in Education Foundation Land Based Education(2011); Bachelor of General Studies Degree Double Minor Linguistics & First Nation Studies(2007); Bachelor of Education Degree in Curriculum Development & Instruction (2007); Professional Development Teaching Certificate (2006); Language Proficiency Certificate (2003); Counselling & Wellness Certificate (2003). Laura was also granted a Language heroes award for the British Columbia Salishan language family. Her educational accomplishments gained were made possible through the balance of traditional and spiritual practices of her St'at'imc cultural heritage.

She is a mother of three children (boys). All three boys carry St’ảt’imc names as their first name and were named through ceremonial practice and the Elders of her family. Laura is a dancer, drummer, singer/songwriter, academic, educator and a language and cultural advocate.

I would also say she's very inspirational. Watch the speech she gave the crowd at the 2013 FSIN Pow Wow on keeping traditions and languages alive.

So what is it about the bear dance that is so important to her?

The cultural expressions of the St'at'imc are a very important aspect of the St'at'imc with songs, dances and the social interactions of the people. The Grizzly Bear dance is an expression of culture that is unique and authentic.

“I walked where the Grizzly Bear dances. I feel his pleasure, excitement and freedom on the earth and in the wind that carries his messages from the past. I dance where the Grizzly Bear danced his steps leaving an ancestral footprint on the land like a cellular memory in my blood. His face is a shadow that calls to me as the wind calls his name “St'alhalam.” The Grizzly Bear he sings his songs as we unite under his skin. I now walk where he left his ancestral footprints. I heard his prayer, I felt his pain, I am his anger, I am his hope, I am his faith. He now dances upon the earth, now, only where I leave my ancestral footprints.”

I truly believe as Indigenous peoples we should be embracing our traditions, our songs, stories and dances and bringing them to life to instill hope, to have faith and to give thanks for ourselves, while honoring our ancestors and especially to give hope to our younger generations.

Kukwstumckacw – Thank you

Thank you so much Laura for sharing your story with us. I hope we can all see your dance in person some day. For other videos, please visit her YouTube page. Or you can follow her Facebook page.



About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.

Comments

28 thoughts on “St’át’imc Grizzly Bear Dancer Shares Her Story

  1. Dominique says:

    WOW! I was moved not only by the dance move, but the power of her spirit. I was moved to tears by the power of her words. There IS only one race, the human race. And we are better when we embrace the diversity, honor each other, and honor tradition.

    Thank you SO much for sharing this.

    All my relations.

    • Mark Ti'Mak LaFrance says:

      I am very sensitive about the Bear dance. In my family, but long time ago, they belived that a bear is a relative, a parent. Now time have changed but with the words and the dance that you perform, I think our time will come back with our land that we will share 8 every one of good will. And I also agree with Domnik about the spirit within you, sister
      Meegwish, Laura!

      Ti’mak, metis

  2. Kate Mason says:

    I discovered that there was an ancestor of mine who belonged to the Lenni Lenape tribe. I don’t know anyone irl from this tribe and would love to discover more about this part of my heritage! I am proud that I have Native blood, though I have no idea how much of it is Native.

  3. ginger meadows says:

    Seeing you do your Grizzly Bear Dance makes my spirit soar! … I cannot imagine how it must make you feel,… or how much strength it must take to do. Much Respect to you Laura Grizzly Paws for doing this…It is a beautiful thing to see!…. Kukwstumckacw

  4. Frank Menusan says:

    I saw the Bear and you become as one , dancing in Oneness. I have never seen anyone do this before- in public! Madoh Chafoonki- Thank You Sister !
    Frank (Muskogee)

  5. Andrea Cook says:

    It really bothered me to see people; Native American or otherwise, dancing around with Animal skins draped over them..Too many Animals are becoming endangered & we need to celebrate their lives rather than exploit their lifeless skins..Some Traditions need to be changed to PROTECT Wild Animals before they become Extinct.. We need to remember~ Extinction is Forever!…

    • Megan Isbister says:

      That bear costume she is adorning was not due to the fact that she killed the bear. She is not doing it for attention of for money. If you at all paid attention to her powerful and very moving speech she made instead of picking and choosing what you wanted to hear, she explains CLEARLY how she came across the Grizzly Bear and exactly why she does the dance. Our brother bear did not understand boundaries in his territory and he was most likely shot and killed by people that owned that land. Most likely the oil and gas industry or pipeline industry was the cause of his death. That was his territory and he was killed on his land because of this. Yes our brothers and sisters should be protected. Protected from these companies that are killing our land. She is honoring him by doing that dance. She is honoring his life and what he went through by doing that dance. She is celebrating him by dancing for him. If you do not understand that then you need to get back to your roots if you are First Nations or not comment about something you know nothing about if you are not First Nations.

      ““I walked where the Grizzly Bear dances. I feel his pleasure, excitement and freedom on the earth and in the wind that carries his messages from the past. I dance where the Grizzly Bear danced his steps leaving an ancestral footprint on the land like a cellular memory in my blood. His face is a shadow that calls to me as the wind calls his name “St’alhalam.” The Grizzly Bear he sings his songs as we unite under his skin. I now walk where he left his ancestral footprints. I heard his prayer, I felt his pain, I am his anger, I am his hope, I am his faith. He now dances upon the earth, now, only where I leave my ancestral footprints.”

      I truly believe as Indigenous peoples we should be embracing our traditions, our songs, stories and dances and bringing them to life to instill hope, to have faith and to give thanks for ourselves, while honoring our ancestors and especially to give hope to our younger generations.

      Kukwstumckacw – Thank you” Laura Grizzlypaws.

      First Nations people and the bond they share with our four legged, winged, finned brothers and sisters and mother earth is something you obviously will never understand.

      • naughtytinkr bell says:

        Your energy seems to be negative towards this beautiful soul who is trying to make a positive change in the world. You could learn a thing or two from her.

      • Megan Isbister says:

        And your energy seems to be of idiotic nature. So my energy is full of negativity huh? You mean the same way Andrea Cook’s energy is negative towards this proud First Nations woman honouring her cultural identity. So in other words its ok for Caucasian people to have an opinion, but not First Nations people right? Haha you’re funny. You’re doing the same thing she was doing as well. Picking and choosing the words you liked, and or understood from my statement. How dare you or her think that my people should change our beautiful and spiritual ways to better suit your oppressive views. Is that your white privilege that ideology stems from? It’s your Caucasian owned oil companies that are destroying our Mother Earth and her children, not First Nations people you ignorant person you!! Its your people who almost killed off the Buffalo and the Beaver because the pelts were popular across seas. Its your people who hunt for pleasure and hang stuffed animal heads on their walls to show off, so please do not get it twisted. You and her both could learn a thing or two from First Nations people. Take your white privileged, colonizing, marginalizing, oppressive and racist ideologies elsewhere.

  6. Thanks, my dear Bear.
    Yes, We R 1!!
    U am I. And I am U!
    A great honor 2 see and hear U.
    U R blessed.
    <3 <3 Wim from germany.

  7. Megan Isbister says:

    That bear costume she is adorning was not due to the fact that she killed the bear. She is not doing it for attention of for money. If you at all paid attention to her powerful and very moving speech she made instead of picking and choosing what to wanted to hear, she explains CLEARLY how she came across the Grizzly Bear and exactly why she does the dance. Our brother bear did not understand boundaries in his territory and he was most likely shot and killed by people that owned that land. Most likely the oil and gas industry or pipeline industry was the cause of his death. That was his territory and he was killed on his land because of this. Yes are brothers and sisters should be protected. Protected from these companies that are killing our land. She is honoring him by doing that dance. She is honoring is life by doing that dance. She is celebrating him by dancing for him.

    ““I walked where the Grizzly Bear dances. I feel his pleasure, excitement and freedom on the earth and in the wind that carries his messages from the past. I dance where the Grizzly Bear danced his steps leaving an ancestral footprint on the land like a cellular memory in my blood. His face is a shadow that calls to me as the wind calls his name “St’alhalam.” The Grizzly Bear he sings his songs as we unite under his skin. I now walk where he left his ancestral footprints. I heard his prayer, I felt his pain, I am his anger, I am his hope, I am his faith. He now dances upon the earth, now, only where I leave my ancestral footprints.”

    I truly believe as Indigenous peoples we should be embracing our traditions, our songs, stories and dances and bringing them to life to instill hope, to have faith and to give thanks for ourselves, while honoring our ancestors and especially to give hope to our younger generations.

    Kukwstumckacw – Thank you” Laura Grizzlypaws.

    First Nations people and the bond they share with our four legged, winged, finned brothers and sisters and mother earth is something you obviously will never understand.

  8. Robin Andreae says:

    A friend recently shared a video of Laura dancing. I am in awe of her power beauty and grace. She and the grizzly truly are one. It’s so rare to see one dance with the bear publicly and even rarer to see a woman dance with the bear. Her strength and message are truly inspiring.

  9. Crystal Kayonnie says:

    I love the way you dance. Your a new role model. Do you have a listing of what Pow-wows you’ll be entering? Because I would like to see you in person and your dance. I hope you come to Fort McDowell pow wow in Phoenix, AZ. 🙂

  10. Growing up I have been taught that this dance is a man’s dance. That it is NOT for women.. it does bother me that she dances this dance. I basically heard that she said she doesn’t care what anyone says she’s going to dance this dance. Just common disrespect to her own culture. **MY opinion tho!!!!**

  11. Autumn WhiteFeather says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your dance. I have never seen that regalia before and it just blows me away. And the grace and beauty that the dance was done with pays respect to the Bear. Thank you again. Autumn

  12. Running Doe says:

    wado so very much for sharing, brings such wonderful things to my heart, spirit,

  13. Stefanie Fasano says:

    we jus celebrated our annual Bear Dance here on my reservation Southern Ute Rez Ignacio Colorado out bear dance is the coming of spring when the bear wakes up from hibernation we dance in the corral our songs sound as if the bear was scratching his back on a tree I <3 it
    the Grizzly dance is very touching loved watching it thank you for sharing 🙂

  14. alexander says:

    I agree with shannon,,
    traditional bear dance is done by men… not by women…
    I DO NOT agree with her speaches or her dance…
    WHAT IS SPECIAL OF breaking tradition..
    when she IS goin to come onto floor i turn my back n get off floor,, or i leave room..

  15. She just wants the attention (sorry to say) she is my auntie she has made mastakes an this is how she is trying to redo everything by getting degrees she does not need, claiming she can just like that be a grizzly bear dancer, I have heard she is trying to strip part of a land she stays on with no evidence or any type of trails where our ancestors had/have been on, taking advantage of our culture for her own personal use, I have had told her she is being disrespectful to everyone an she had told me an a few others she does not care she has the power to do what ever she wanted, she would get what she wanted, this lady who is my so called auntie is disrespectful,

  16. Bizzare says:

    I met her once at kamloopa powwow. Big bragster of her accomplishments and TV time she had. Then she took a selfie with my brother who has Down syndrome then uploaded it with the caption that she loves seeing him and spending time with him because even people with ds can have great stories. We never met her until that moment. Even saying she should have her own category. Inspiration? Yes… But to much success can get to a persons head, as well posting for likes… Speaking with some statimc people, her version of the grizzly dance don’t originate from the statimc traditions.

  17. It saddens me to hear people complain about anyone who tries to keep culture, ceremony, skills and tradition alive. You speak as though she is doing wrong. Why aren’t you stepping forward to keep these gifts alive so she don’t have to.
    As to the lady who gives special rights to creatures of the world. Let her throw off her shoes and belts and purses that come from cattle. Let her not eat the meats that grace her table and watch her reaction.
    As to the animals…they have always been our teachers….Learn.

  18. Hey ms. John! Met her through my friend Brock when they briefly dated couple years back when she was his teacher. Bit stuck up and very egotistical, but she can be fun to be around.

  19. Louis Youvella says:

    met you at the San Felipe Feast in New Mexico said you were making a cd. wanted to know when it will be out an sre you still going to title it Sayah. Which means grandmother in my language, the Tewa language. Would like to hear from you.

  20. Running Doe says:

    Grizzly Bear dances. I feel his pleasure, excitement and freedom on the earth and in the wind that carries his messages from the past really enjoyed this was wonderful, my relations to all, wado so very much

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