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.
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