Grizzly Bear Specimen

Grizzly Bear

Mounted grizzly bear

Carved and painted wooden mask with long black hair. Human face with frog sitting on top of head with legs wrapped around. Painted black, red and light green. Abalone irises.

The Grizzly Bear has a reputation for being extremely dangerous. In fact, its namesake may have been derived from this fact. 'Grizzly' technically means 'striped with grey' but could have alluded to the bears' terrifying demeanor.

The grizzly is much larger than the black bear and range in colour from creamy yellow to dark brown. They posses formidable strength and endurance. They are known to be excellent diggers, surprisingly fast runners, and outstanding swimmers. However, unlike other species of bear they are unable to climb trees. They are also very intelligent which make them a dangerous adversary. Men have to be very careful when out hunting. A grizzly might have poor eyesight but they have great hearing and sense of smell, which alert them to predators and prey close by. Grizzlies typically hibernate November through mid-April a markedly shorter period of time then the black bear. They are omnivores that prey on big and small game as well as grass, roots, and berries. The Yukon grizzlies like those of the Canadian Rockies are particularly carnivorous as they hunt moose, elk, mountain sheep, goats, and black bears. Once they kill large game they hide the carcass under brush or in a hole and bunk close by to feed on the kill until it is fully consumed. Grizzlies usually flee from man but if threatened or separated from their cubs they will defend themselves.

Yukon First Nations respected and feared the Grizzly and only hunted the Grizzly in the most careful and spiritual way. Extensive folklore surrounds the Grizzly and it was widely considered human-like. This spiritual tie from bear to human and possible explanation of family crests is presented in an old Tlingit legend.

Grizzly bears are highly respected by Yukon First Nations. One reason for this is an old Tlingit legend: It was said that long ago a woman married a bear disguised as a man. She did not know he was a bear until after they were married. She awoke early one morning and instead of her husband, she saw a bear lying next to her. She knew she had been deceived but respected and observed the marriage, after all, he was a good provider. One day, her brothers went out hunting. They came across the bear that married their sister and killed him. After the kill, they all sat down to eat but the woman and her half-human children refused the meat.

They say this is why some people eat bear while others will not. Some people believe that this story explains why many Yukon First Nations do not eat grizzly meat to this day. The affinity between human and grizzly animal spirits also account for an ability to speak to one another. When encountering a grizzly on the trail or in a berry patch, a hunter or berry picker would speak quietly and explain that they were out tracking moose or gathering berries, and that no harm would come to the bear.

There are many variations of the bear legend. This variation is intended to give a brief synopsis of the story and is not a retelling of the myth.


George Johnston Museum, Teslin

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