The Native American people have always had a special place in their hearts for the bear. Bears are portrayed in Northwest Native American art on totem poles, plaques, drawings, masks, jewelry and many other artworks. The bear represents a symbol of power, strength, learned humility, motherhood, teaching, healing and even dreaming. Bears are respected by the Northwest Native American people for their human-like qualities. Bears in Northwest Native American art signify friendship and many are shown to be smiling.
Bears, regarded as masters of the forests, are also special from an environmental point of view because they are considered to be a part of the land shared by both bears and humans. Whatever happens to bears will affect the environment which will also ultimately affect humans. This relationship between bears and humans is depicted on giant bear-human masks as part of a Northwest Native American art exhibit at Vancouver's International Airport.
Also interesting is that according to Northwest Native American mythology, bears change into their spirit bodies to allow their earthly bodies to revitalize during winter hibernations.
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By Northwest Native American tradition, a bear that is killed by hunters is taken to the house of the tribe's chief and treated like a guest of honor. Eagle down is sprinkled on the bear as a welcoming gesture. Dances and prayers are made to the bear's soul in order to ensure that no harm would later come to the hunters.
One of the most widely told Haida legends is that of the Bear Mother. She was a daughter of a tribe's chief who fell in love with and married a young handsome bear who was the nephew of a great bear chief. After the birth of twin bear cubs, the Bear Mother's brothers killed her bear husband during a hunt. As a result, the tribe agreed to use the bear as their crest which is how the bear clan started. This agreement maintained good relations between the bears and humans. The twin cubs, who had the ability to transform from bears to humans at will, became guardians of the land's people. The bear clan became one of the most respected of all Northwest Native American clans.
The actual bear species found in British Columbia, Canada are black bears and grizzly bears. The black bear population in BC is estimated to be 120,000 to 160,000 out of the total 803,000 black bears living in all of North America. The British Columbia population estimate for grizzly bears is 10,000 to 13,000 which accounts for about one quarter of all North American grizzlies. The numbers of both species of bears in British Columbia are considered to be healthy and bear hunting is permitted in the Canadian province as a form of population control. None of the bear species in British Columbia are considered to be endangered.
It is the black bears and grizzly bears found in the Pacific Northwest region that are represented in the area's Northwest Native American art.
Native American artists are producing some stunning artwork including bears these days. See Native American art bear carvings at very affordable online prices here at Free Spirit Gallery.
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