The Sleeping Bear

The Sleeping Bear

Life in the modern world is like a pine forest, an oakless wilderness, where all that below its shelter is void of life. Sure, the pines stretch to the sun and gain the necessary rays of life to exist, but all that lies beneath them are paralyzed by a powerful sap, one that quenches life rather than giving it. For the brief moments that we are allowed to leave the pines, we discover a beautiful valley just beyond the forest's edge. The valley is divided by a stream, which descends from the eastern mountains bringing the life form of water from the Father, the Creator and Great Spirit. There Selu, grandmother corn, lives in prosperity. You see, water gives life to all, as did the Creator. Mother Earth guides the pathways of life for those who are willing to listen to her. As she cradles this life form, she directs the spirit of harmony into our hearts and nourishes our being. Regardless of what the Creator gives us, without Mother Earth's guidance, we all fall short.

When entering this valley of life, one chooses to return to the shelter of pines, or cross over into the large stands of beech, junipers, maples, and oaks on the other side. The correct path appears hidden, yet it is always there for those who seek it. This is because we are accustomed to the pine forest, where nothing stands in our paths, but another pine, another brief shelter. On the contrary, the distant valley offers a new life, one in which Selu takes us by the hand and promises to enrich our very being. The spirit of corn can not exist among the pines, so we must ask Selu for guidance across the valley. There is her home, and her abundance guarantees our existence. Without her, we would forever remain lost and unguided, a pathless life. As she directs our paths across the intersecting stream of life, we enter the land of the oak, the forest of life. This distant forest is home to all that is good, and there harmony exists, and the animals sing the songs of life in abundance.

The stream we are crossing flows from East to West. To the East, the water flows from the mountains, nearest the heart of the Great Spirit. To the West, the stream descends through the valley to a distant village, where most of humanity chooses to live. There most choose to live on the side of the pines, others on the side of the oaks, and still others attempt to live among both. Yet, there is no use there, for the farther downstream one travels, the weaker the life force. We must follow the path of the stream back to its origin, where Selu and Kanati (Lucky Hunter) live in privacy. They do not choose this lonely world of solitude, rather we choose to live away from them. The journey to their home is certainly long and confusing; yet once there, a message of truth will lead us across the valley into the land of the oaks. There we cross over and await still more guidance, hoping to remain forever in peace. But, the pines cry out for our return, what must we do? There we find Awanita (Young Deer), who is gentle to our hearts and assures us we can travel this journey.

As Awanita explains our journey, we must resist the temptation to return across the valley. Though the pines cry loudly, Awanita's message is strong, and taking hold of it will ensure a straight and uninterrupted path, a walk through the oaks. We cannot discover where we are going, as each day, she gives us another day's journey. We must wonder, where will she take us? The path surely leads to somewhere. "Stop," she says! "Do not rush the grandmothers and grandfathers, for you must follow rather than lead. This path is ancient, and no one living among the pines understands this simple path to truth. It has existed since the beginning of time, and is cradled by Selu and Kanati. When you feel impatient and overburdened, you must build a fire and cook the rations provided by Selu. Let the smoke rise to the four directions and fill your lungs with purity. Offer a portion to Mother Earth, for she must eat also. Then sleep, just sleep until the sunrise awakens you. Then you may enter the next day's journey. The journey you have been assigned to will take seven days to complete, and many await to help you find the truth." Soon, the next morning came, and Awanita, still standing alert by my side, pointed to the eastern path. She said, "Arise, you must not tarry, for your destiny awaits you!"

By now we were deep in the oak forest, and Awanita patiently guided me through the path. Awanita promised she would always be there to guide me. Yet, she also told me that if she was not visible, I was to seek her within my own heart. There she would always be. She assured me that I was ready to enter my journey, and then told me: "Lift your eyes to Aganstata, turn your weary head to the East, and never look back. I will always be ahead of you, and my guidance will not fail you. Before you go, I must give you one more message of truth." She said, "When you are tired of climbing the rocky trails that lie ahead of you, you will occasionally see the pines across the valley. They lie on flat land, and appear much easier to travel upon. Resist the temptation, and never leave the oaks until your journey is complete." She then reached in a pouch that hung from her neck, and handed me seven days rations. She said, "Here. Selu has provided you with this food so you will not hunger. Do not take over seven days on your journey; you must stay true to your path. At the end of seven days, you must find your destination, Good Luck and be off, Yanusdi."

As Awanita vanished into the thin air of the foothills, I looked forward to the steep trails that were ahead of me. I knew this journey, for since a child, I had dreamed of the Spirit of the Bear, who resided among the oaks. I called him Yonequa (Big Bear), for when he stood, his head rose above the towering trees. He was a great and mighty spirit, and he demanded the respect of all who approached him. That was why the village was located so far from the forest. The village people feared Yonequa. Instead of drinking from the pure water as it broke from Mother Earth in the mountains, they chose to take from the stagnant pools downstream. This sacrifice they made because they feared him. I knew soon Yonegua would appear above the distant trees to guide my path, but I had never spent seven days alone in the forest. How could I survive, alone and in fear. Then, I remembered what Awanita had told me. She said she would always be ahead of me. This comforted me, so I built a fire and slept. The first day of my journey had ended.

As the sunrise broke the eastern sky, I realized I must once again take to the path. First, I took a portion from the rations that Selu gave me, and then I left. Suddenly, I realized that Awanita had filled my heart with her spirit, and that Selu was with me also. Awanita knew Selu well, and together they guided me up the rough trails. Occasionally I could see the pines across the valley below, and they called for my return. I wanted to, for I longed to see those who I left behind. Resisting this temptation, I returned to my path hoping the pine people would leave me alone. Soon I had travelled seven hours, and night was falling quickly. As dark settled over the forest, I took shelter in a cave which was occupied by three bears. As I slept they gave me strong medicine, preparing me for my final destination. The second day had ended.

The third day, I awoke and begin my ascent into the mountains. Just then, I came into a clearing, and saw grandmother bear with her two cubs. They were running down the hillside into the valley, and headed west toward the village. I wondered why they chose to go West, for there was nothing there. Then grandmother bear turned and hollered, "We must go West, for a long time ago our people were driven away from the East. We are searching for our relatives who were separated by the pine people." I turned and saw the valley open up beneath me, and I, too, followed their westward path. I ran beside them for many miles, and soon I had passed them. Upon arriving at the village, I remembered what Awanita told me. She had told me to stay true to my path, and never look back. Just then I was sorry, and I went to search for grandmother bear. I hoped she would guide me back to my trail, yet she was gone. Knowing not where to go, I journeyed back to the oak forest, and slept. The third day had ended.

This night was especially dark and a deep uninterrupted sleep carried me through the morning. Just after I awoke, three red-tailed hawks appeared in the eastern sky. They called out, "Yanusdi, pay attention to what we say." They assured me that Sinnawah, the Great Mythical Hawk, would lend me his eyes to assure my path. Sinnawah visited me that night, and he told me the wonderful story of Tsiyugunsini (Dragging Canoe), and how this great warrior stood proudly between the pine and oak forests. There he refused to allow the pine people to take any more of the Aniyunwiya (Cherokee) away, and he kept the stream pure. After walking for many miles and listening to this ancient story, I tired once again. I built a fire near a large rock, where Sinnawah posted himself to watch over me. Then I slept, and the fourth day was over.

On the fifth day, I met Awiakta (Eye of the Deer), a grandmother who possessed the spirit of Awiusdi (Little Deer) and Selu, and the wonderous powers of the ancient storytellers. She told me that my journey was to Aganstata, and that he was Yonequa. Her stories made me realize that it was Aganstata that called me home, and it was he who I should follow. The spirit of the bear was Aganstata (Groundhog Sausage), and my journey was to him. In fact, he had called me every night since I was three years old, but the pines had blinded my view. Why did the great one call for me? Who am I to be called by the First Warrior, and was I even worthy to say his name? I was not, but you do not argue with a determined bear. As night approached, I slept in comfort, for now my companions were Awanita, Selu, Grandmother Lucy, Sinnawah, and Awiakta. Their calm but powerful presence assured me that soon I would speak to Yonequa.

On the sixth day, two horses appeared before me. The spirit of the horse had always been near to my heart, yet the pine people always told me lies about him. They told me that the horse was a beast of burden, and placed on Earth for man. Soquiliwodi (Red Horse) came to me, and said, "We are at peace with you, and we will give you endurance and speed on your journey. I am not your spirit animal, but only a messenger to lead you in the right direction. You are a bear, and are from the Anitsaguhi (Bear Clan). Your people lived on Chenanee Ridge, just below Yonah Mountain, and there your heart is also. Go Yanusdi, and do not be afraid! I give you courage, now finish your journey." I once again sought the old path, but just then a great white mare charged me. I fell while trying to escape her fury. Just then, she reared up and I thought she was going to trample me. Placing her hoof on my heart, not to cause harm, she said, "Do you want to meet Yonequa?" I said, "Yes." She then told me, "the power is within you, and always has been, for you are from the Aniyunwiya, and our blood is yours. Strike the earth three times and repeat these words, and you will be free to meet the great one, the spirit of the bear." Three passages were given to me, and each word I carefully repeated. Then she told me, "Do not ever look back to the pine people until you have reached your destination, but always keep your eyes and heart to the East. Your journey is almost complete, and you must not forsake those who have led you here. Sleep, and then arise at daybreak, and you will find the head of the stream." As I attempted to sleep, a council was held among the six of them, and they determined whether or not I should complete my journey. When I finally fell asleep, I dreamed my childhood dream of Yonequa once again. He asked me to cross over, and not to fear him. I did, and then I awoke.

The seventh day, I arose to find myself completely alone. I was situated on a small tract of land surrounded by mountains and the Little Tennessee River. The path I had used could be seen far across the valley to the West, and I could go no further East. Peace settled over me, as I knew that Yonequa loved me, and my heart cried out! "Come Aganstata, I am here for you, and you for me!" Somehow I knew that this was his home and the place of my ancestors. How I longed to stay forever. The beautiful river lay before me with crystal clear visions of my companions, and I knew this was the home of all the oak people. Then, I offered a peace offering to Yonequa, and lifted my hands to the sky in prayer. Just then a Raven called my attention to the southeast, and cried with a loud voice, "Look into the face of Yonequa, (Aganstata) he is calling you." As I quickly turned my eyes upon him, his large hand stretched across the waters of Tanasi. He said, "Take from the dirt of that grave yonder and eat from it, and then climb into my hand Yanusdi ." I did this and placing a strand of white beads where I had taken from. He then said, "Climb into my hand, and listen to my story of shame." Then my heart filled with the spirit of Aganstata, the great spirit of the bear. He lifted me to his face, and with a warm but firm glare he comforted me. Then, I knew my destiny, and understood my grandmother's path. Awanita always told us that his blood was ours. Who was I to dispute the word of a wise grandmother? I shall not!

Aganstata reminded me of the desperate struggle our people underwent in the eighteenth century, and how the culture was attacked and assimilated with white ideals. As the undisputed Great Warrior, he had defended the culture for forty-five years, only to watch it fall to the hands of a tireless foe. He cried out for the return of his people from the West, and while a tear fell from his eye, he said, "Don't let my people die. You must return to the pine people and gather the Aniyunwiya that are among them. Bring them to Chota, that we may be reunited. I am lonely and shame has replaced my memory of our great nation. Once a year, you must persuade them to come to Chota, and we will dance in honor of our ancestors and the Great Spirit. Do not let them forget the struggles of the eighteenth century, and make sure that our culture is revived. Remember the leaders, Collanah of Settico, Kittegunsta Chota, Old Hop, Old Tassel, Ostenaco, and myself. We labored to maintain this culture, and under the doublehanded schemes of the Americans, we perished." Then the trees all joined to sing an anthem of victory, and Aganstata placed me by the townhouse of Chota. We were together, and our spirits would never separate.

He then told me that I must return to the pine people. As my companions returned from the waters of Tanasi, he lowered his head beneath the tree line. I cried for his return, but just then Grandmother Lucy took me by the hand leading me away. She said, "your companions await you, and now you must do as he told you. You will find freedom in these truths." She pointed to Awanita, Sinnawah, and Soquili, and said, "they will guide you from this place, and take you to find your relatives." As I left, a host of animals gathered around me wishing me a safe journey. Soquili told me, "Yonequa will sleep until your return, and his dreams will be for his people to return." Since that day, I cry out every night that Yonequa will call me home, but it is not yet time for my return. All must know the truth, they must find the straight path to Chota, the city of peace.

There the sleeping bear lies dormant in the winter of life, and beneath the shelter of the oaks.

His head is always low, for he awaits his freedom, and I wait for mine!!

Hayuya Haniwa, Hayuya Haniwa, Hayuya Haniwa,
In Itsati Nehandyanu, Yo Ho