Program 208 – Turtle Island Storytellers

Curly Bear Wagner.

Curly Bear Wagner. Photo courtesy of Going-to-the-Sun

Curly Bear Wagner

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Arlie Neskahi:
Ever wonder why bears hibernate, or why the prairie chicken has spots? Curly Bear Wagner has answers in this week’s Turtle Island Storytellers segment.

Frank Anakwad
Montano Omakakii Nagamon
Closing the Circle

Curly Bear Wagner:
This is the story about the bear that stole the Chinook, the Chinook winds.

In my country, the winds blow very hard up in the Rocky Mountains by Glacier National Park and onto the Blackfeet Nation. It may be 20, 30 below zero and we look up and see the kind of the blue arch in the mountains and that a meaning that the Chinook winds will come and warm everything up.

And so this story goes back, way back in time, maybe a thousand years. Our people were camped on the edge of the mountains in the foothills. And the chief told the people. He said, “We have to go out and hunt and bring food in, because a storm is approaching.” And they went out and they couldn’t find nothing. So every morning they’d go out and every evening they’d go out and stay late and they would come home empty handed. And pretty soon the storm hit. It piled up snow quite deep, maybe 4-5-6 inches of snow. Our people hardly could move. The children were crying because there was no food. It was hard to get wood to keep the lodges warm.

But there was a little boy. He was an orphan. He lived all by himself. His lodge was tore up. His clothes were raggy. He had no friends except the four legged ones and the winged ones. Amongst his company that would come and visit him was the owl and his family, the weasel, the coyote and the magpie. He said, “We’ve gotta have a war council. We gotta do something about it.” He said, “The Chinook winds haven’t came. They haven’t came in a long time.” So he told the magpie, “You have a lot of relatives.” He said, “Go find your relatives and see if there’s any gossip to see what happened to the Chinook winds.”

So the magpie left and the four legged and winged ones came they go out and bring food in to this boy. They were shivering. They were cold. The rest of the village, they were hungering. They were without food. The little orphan boy said, “We gotta help somehow.”

Grizzly bear.

Grizzly bear. Photo by Bryan Harry. Courtesy of the National Parks Service.

So it wasn’t too long after, the Magpie came back and he said, “Yes, way up in the mountains,” he said, “There is a grizzly bear in a lodge and he has captured the Chinook winds and he has them in a big elk bag and he is very nice and warm.”

So they said, “We have to journey up into the mountains.”

And so they took off. The coyote busted trail for him and the winged ones the birds were out gathering food for him. And so they would rest and all huddle around this little orphan boy to keep him warm. And they journeyed and journeyed. The journey took him a long time. They had to plow through the deep snow and the cold.

And pretty soon they came to a clearing and they said, “That’s where the bear is and inside he has the Chinook winds.” The Magpie was saying.

And they noticed there was a hole inside this lodge. And so the owl sent his wife up and he said, “Peek in there and see where that bag is.”

The bear was back there. Oh he was happy, making all kinds of good noises, warm as could be, and just grunting around and having a very relaxed. But he could hear anything because they have very sharp ears. And he heard this owl flying up.

So he grabbed his fire stick. And the owl peeked in and he poked her in the eye with that stick and she flew off crying, she flew off in the woods crying. So he sent his son up there and the owl was waiting for – going to peek in there and see where the bag was and the bear was waiting again and poked his son. And he went off crying. Same thing happened to him. He got poked in the eye. And he went off crying. That’s why owls have big eyes today.

As they were setting, they had to come up with some plans, so the weasel… The weasel is white and the weasel is very clever and he said, “I’ll go up there and peek,” and he came and he rushed at the lodge like that and he peeked in like that and before the bear could do anything he was already gone. And so they came back with information. And he said, “Yes, that bag is back in the corner and the big grizzly bear is sitting right alongside of it.”

“Oh we gotta come up with a plan.” And so they took their medicine pipe and they took and started blowing smoke into that lodge and that smoke was collecting; and this made the bear very tired. He begin to doze off and they peeked through that hole and pretty soon more smoke came in and pretty soon he was sound asleep snoring.

Curly Bear Wagner.

Curly Bear Wagner. Photo courtesy of Going-to-the-Sun.

And so the coyote he crept on inside that lodge and with his teeth, he grabbed that bag, very slowly pulled that bag out. He got it outside the lodge and he started chewing at the stitches and he couldn’t get no headway. He was chewing and chewing and it was so hard that he couldn’t get through. Then he heard someone say, “Can I help, little brother?” And he looked down and he saw this little prairie chicken. He said, “Can I help you?” He said, “I can pick the stitches out.” So the little prairie chicken got up on top of the bag and he started pulling the stitches out.

And he got out a couple of stitches and he released the Chinook winds. And the Chinook winds began to go and melt all the snow and the prairie chicken jumped down on to the ground and when he did, the mud splashed up on his wings. And that’s why the prairie chickens have spots on their wings today.

And the Chinook winds were released. It melted all the snow brought the game in. The people had food and they had a wood source and so that is the story of the bear that stole the Chinook.

But the bears, today, they were very angry so today when winter comes, they all hibernate. They all sleep through the winter so they don’t have to be cold in their nests. And so from that time on, the Chinook winds have always been with us. And bears we don’t have to worry about them because they hibernate. So that is the story of the bears that stole the Chinook.

Curly Bear Wagner, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, lives in Browning, Montana. He is the founder of the “Going to the Sun” Foundation, whose mission is to promote knowledge of the Blackfeet, as well as to help provide jobs and economic stability to tribal members.


CoyoteCoyote. Courtesy of the National Parks Service.
Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park.
Courtesy of the National Parks Service.
Magpie. Yellowstone National Park.
Magpie. Yellowstone National Park.
Courtesy of the National Parks Service.