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Aboriginal elders: The bear must be understood and respected by man

Aboriginal elders: The bear must be understood and respected by man

Since human-wildlife coexistence remains an issue in Bow Valley, TK keepers explain the importance of respecting bears in their habitat.

Invading their space worries the elder Jackson Wesley. According to him, bears are being driven from their lands due to human encroachment on the landscape. Bears are running out of space to feed and hunt, so they go to cities and eat garbage.

In the spring, many hikers in southern Alberta hit trails equipped with bear spray, singing, or making noises to warn the animal of their presence.

The Elders and custodians of knowledge in the Stony Nakodas First Nation have their own approach and lessons to share when it comes to coexistence.

tobacco supplies

Before a hike, knowledgeable ranger Barry Wesley always stops by for a party. He offers tobacco to the mountain and all the creatures that inhabit the landscape and warns the bears not to cross it.

Knowledge keeper Barry Wesley, left, Elder Henry Holloway and Elder Jackson Wesley speak at a roundtable discussion as part of Bear Day at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

Photo: Radio-Canada/Helen Pike

For his part, Elder Henry Holloway explained that bears are the ears of Mother Earth and protectors of nature. On their territory they search for food and raise their young.

Bears get used to the ground, says Mr. Holloway, and they always listen.

Bears know more about us than we do about him. When you talk to a bear, wherever you are, he hears you and knows you »

Quote from Elder Henry Holloway, Stony Nakoda First Nation

That is why, says keeper of knowledge Barry Wesley, bears should never be spoken ill of or ridiculed.

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For, he says, when bears come out of their dens in the spring, they’ve spent the winter listening, their ears alert, and they’ll recognize you.

Consider a holistic approach

Bill Snow, acting director of advisory at Stony Nakoda, stresses the need for residents and visitors to the Bow Valley to consider traditional knowledge of flora and fauna.

We come from a comprehensive knowledge base that is completely different from Western scienceHe says. When we think about how we treat grizzly bears or bears in general, we are looking at it in terms of Western science. So hopefully that will change.

Two people are sitting and the other is writing in a notebook.

Bill Snow, left, and Ole Benjamin say bears are not malicious animals and should be respected.

Photo: Radio-Canada/Helen Pike

The First Nation records this traditional knowledge in cultural observational reports and studies that follow the Stoney methodology of cultural observation.

In 2016, she did a study on grizzly bears. Other reports are on the way, including a new grizzly bear report that will cover other areas of the Kananaskis State and involve more fieldwork, Bill Snow says.

It’s an interesting look at these animals, rather than thinking of them as an aggressive and always threatening species trying to harm us all.He says.

It is, he says, about combating many misconceptions and bringing this comprehensive perspective to researchers, students, government, and the general public.

With information from Helen Pike