Why Did Indians Wear Bear Claw Jewelry? Bears were an important part of Native American Indian culture as various symbols of strength, hard work, and even great love. Known for their ability to keep fighting, even when they are wounded, bears are closely tied to healing and medicine. Many believed that bears were able to heal their own wounds. A bear claw might be worn on a necklace to protect a warrior and offer him strength. The claws are also included in medicine pouches to bring the power of healing.
Many tribes considered the “Great Spirit” to often take on the form of a bear. Some tribes even called the bear “mother.” White Bears were products of a recessive gene found in Black Bears and are now known as Kermode Bears, they were not polar bears. These white bears were known as spirit bears.
Native American Indians believed they were gifts of the “Great Spirit” to remind people that they once lived in a land of ice and snow. The bear was seen as a hunter that knew the land. Quick, big, and powerful, they were considered smart and brave while outfighting cougars and wolves. A Native American with the word bear in his name was considered to be an excellent provider as well as a powerful warrior. Bears were not seen as gods, but as mythical, magical, and even celestial gifts of God.
To Pueblo tribes, bears are considered one of the six directional guardians associated with the West and the color blue. The Zuni Indians ascribe healing powers to bears and carve stone bear fetishes to protect them and bring them luck.
In most Native American cultures one can’t help but see that bears have considered medicine to be with impressive magical powers. In many tribes, bears play a major role in many religious ceremonies as symbols of strength and wisdom. A bear’s claw was one of the talismans frequently included in medicine bundles, and warriors in some tribes wore necklaces of bear claws to bring them power and strength.
In conclusion, now we do know why Indians used to wear bear claw jewelry. While it is OK to wear a bear claw, there were taboos regarding bears in different Native American tribes. One such taboo was to kill mother bears with their cubs.
Among the Innu Indians, it was taboo for children or unmarried women to eat bear meat. Some Apache tribes did not eat bears at all. It was also considered disrespectful and dangerous to insult bears. It was considered disrespectful to step on their scat, or even utter their names outside of certain ritual contexts.
A few Native American Indian cultures actually had Shaman or a Medicine Man who would dress in bear and other animal skins to take on an animal form. Imagine that!
Besides, seen as good medicine and healers in Native American folklore, bears are often portrayed as a sort of enforcer figure who punishes those doing wrong. Bear personalities in folklore stories range from the wise and noble bear to being morally upright but somewhat stupid and gullible, to being aggressive and intimidating. And of course, there are stories about the devoted maternal behavior of mother bears sacrificing themselves for their cubs, or who adopted human children.
In most cases in Indian folklore, bears do not bother people who have not done anything wrong. But while some saw the bear as being noble, some tribes also tell stories about monsters resembling man-eating bears. Those tribes told stories of a monster bears the size of elephants that would prey on innocent people and must be slain by heroes.
The Cherokee would sometimes portray bears as violent enemies of humans. But even though that is the case, the bear was still an important Clan animal to the Cherokees.
Yes, bears are one of the most important and widespread Clan animals in Native American Indian cultures. Tribes with Bear Clans include the Creek whose Bear Clan is named Nokosalgi or Nokosvlke, the Chippewa whose Bear Clan and its totem are called Nooke, the Algonquian tribes such as the Mi’kmaq and Menominee, the Huron and Iroquois tribes.
Bear Clans among the Plains Indians tribes are the Caddo and Osage, the Hopi whose Bear Clan is called Honngyam or Hona-wungwa, the Navajo and Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, and Northwest Coast tribes such as the Tlingit, Tsimshian, Nisgaa-Gitksan, and Salishan tribes.
The bear was an important Clan crest on the Northwest Coast and can often be found carved on totem poles. And though some think of Native American Bear Clans as being only those in the West or Northwest, many Eastern tribes such as the Lenape and Iroquois have a Bear Dance among their tribal dance traditions.
While I don’t know how many tribes still believe this, it is known that some tribes used to believe that it was possible to draw power from a bear by dreaming of one, or by killing one, or by eating parts of one. And yes, believe it or not, some tribes even believed that a warrior was strengthened if he just touched a bear. All of these actions were said to make a warrior invincible.
The Abenaki tribe believe that the stars of the Big Dipper are the Great Bear (Kchi-awasos). According to Abenaki mythology, the Great Bear is chased every night by three hunters. Yes indeed, bears seen as mythical, magical, celestial creatures, was a part of many of the tribes’ beliefs. Besides day and night, American Indians used the Great Bear to explain the changing of the seasons.
The story goes that the bear rises up in the spring, waking up the earth and brings things to life. As summer approaches, the bear runs across the top of the heavens avoiding hunters. Its hot breath flows across the land to make the world hot and sweaty. The Great Bear would lead hunters on great chases and was killed every fall. His blood dripped to earth which showered the leaves, which of course changed the colors of trees and the land to mainly red and orange. Through the winter, there is no life in the bear — and that is seen as the earth is cold and lifeless during winter. Lucky for us, the Great Bear is reborn every spring.
And by the way, about those who wore bear claws? Why Did Indians Wear Bear Claw Jewelry? Many Indian tribes were scared of the grizzly bear. Yet, as amazing as it is, like the buffalo, they hunted grizzly for food and clothing. And yes, the claws were made into necklaces like the Sioux bear necklace. These necklaces were considered to contain spiritual power, wearing a bear claw necklace would mean protection and good health to the Indian wearing it. They were never traded, but they could be given as a special gift. And because most Native American Indian cultures believe that the bear has spiritual powers, even today there are those who believe wearing a bear claw necklace is good medicine, protection, and strength for the warrior wearing it.
Content for this question contributed by Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr., resident of Tuskegee, Alabama, USA