Mythology exists in many cultures. Bearing various creatures and symbols, each culture has unique stories to tell, beliefs that transcend logic, but which once provided comfort and clarity to our ancestors. In Native American mythology, there is a tale of a bear called Spirit Bear. The tale tells of an all-white bear, which represents peace and harmony.
Found in British Columbia and on islands near Alaska, Spirit Bear is actually a rare version of the black bear. Its technical name is Kermode Bear. Not so much white in color as it is cream or off-white, the Kermode, or Spirit Bear is thought to comprise approximately 10 percent of black bear births. The off-white color, though thought to be mystical in some way by Native Americans, is actually caused by a recessive gene characteristic (such as the recessive gene characteristics that make some people have blue eyes rather than brown, blonde hair rather than black, etc.).
Native American legend has it that the spirit bear was created as a reminder of the ice age and the troubles that resulted. Its white color was thought to be a visual example, sent from the creator, to remind the people of where they had come from, in a world filled with snow and ice—and hardship. The bear’s presence and rarity was not to be overlooked.
The government of British Columbia has named the spirit bear as their representative animal, their mascot per say. This is in honor of the Native Americans and because of the role the spirit bear played within their culture. Though the number of Kermode bears, or spirit bears, has decreased over the years, the Canadian Government is hoping their protection efforts will allow the numbers to increase again.
Though many of us will likely never see a spirit bear, imagine the awe felt by those who have or who will.
Joseph Paige © 2006