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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Bear necessities

BY Sonny Orr Aug 3, 2021

Bears can be like ornery big brothers at times. In the North at this time of year we often see our bros in action, usually at the local dump. They tend to congregate there to gorge on the leftovers from our feasts. 

Back in the day, dogs would eat anything at hand and thereby keep the bears at bay. Now our dogs are into processed foods – just like us. Instant doggie gratification: toss a biscuit and make friends the easiest way possible. If only bears had a dog’s mentality and hung around to eat our leftovers until hibernation time. At least they wouldn’t leave yellow stains or preserved crap in the snow all winter.

Our people have great respect for bears, though we tend to pity those that scavenge the dump. It’s a bad place to be unless you are a raven or a seagull. Just like certain dives close to the Espresso hotel in Montreal, local dumps tend to be an invitation to an open-bar party. They have their own kind of wild ways.

Bears, being bears, have strong olfactory powers. When summer cookouts and BBQs send savoury odours wafting on the breeze, it’s as if we had sent them an invitation by express courier. Phooey to the humans – lovingly roasting the hind leg of a moose or caribou, or just plain burgers – to a bear, it all smells the same flavour of delicious.

So, when picnics clash with bears, someone is bound to win. In the North, scaring off a bear is preferred in the summer, as it is a bad time to harvest any meats. That’s why killing a bear isn’t an option unless you have plenty of room in the freezer for a special feast occasion. 

Some bears have to be carefully harvested, as was the case in Whapmagoostui when bears roamed around the site of the annual gathering. One bear met its fate in the sights of a local security guard and was respectfully offered to a googum. Ironic feasting on the feast crasher. 

Another bear showed up the next day and ripped up a tent or two. The googum of that tent made a wise decision. She knew it wasn’t fashionable to wrestle a bear dressed in her nightgown. Instead, she took no chances and headed home with her entire clan in tow.

One story of marauding bears from back in the day gently tickles my now-feeble memory – a story about a cross-eyed boy armed only with a slingshot. 

That particular spring day, the men were at a pond a mile or so away hunting geese when a sleuth of bears entered the campground. One of my aunts and her son were inside their tent when a bear poked its head in. Luckily, she was near the bush radio and called for help. 

As we were the closest to her camp, we tried to rush there over dangerous ice conditions on a rescue mission. Meanwhile, as the hibernation-hungry bear got closer, the cross-eyed boy pulled his slingshot to its maximum tension. With his right eye aiming left and his left eye aiming right, he let go of the stone, hitting the bear bullseye square on the nose. 

Brother bear grunted, turned around and lumbered off into the bush. 

We arrived a few hours later to find no bears and went to tell the hunters of the drama at their camp. And that even cross-eyed boys can be heroes.

So, take care of your camp. Leave no scraps or garbage, try not to burn anything because the regional fire authorities say so, and finish that hotdog you’re choking on. Don’t feed the bears, because you might end up on their menu.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.