My ten year-old son pushed his bike through the path past the berry bushes onto the beach. He stopped his eyes wide. He yelled, “Don’t come down mom!”
I could see him hesitate, not knowing whether to ride towards me…a short 30 feet away or ride down the beach. He moved away.
I could hear the bear growl and see my son’s eyes grow wide as it moved closer.
I dimly wondered, should I run and tackle that bear or stay frozen where I was and hope.
That was when Peatou, the dog that came with the house, ran between my son and that bear. The bear ran.
We ran….to a neighbor’s.
That night I vowed to feed the dog better…a whole lot better!
Almost everyone has acquired a new bear story this week at Esowista. Some think there’s one bear, some three bears poking around the village. Everyone is cautioning the children to stay inside especially around dusk.
That’s when the bear (or bears) seem to like to check out our garbage containers. That’s also when the “bear hunters” have been coming out to protect their village. Each evening two to eight young men volunteer to patrol the village looking for the bear(s). While no-one seems to happy with the idea of shooting the bears, most seem to feel as Gloria Frank stated, “This bear is too bold for comfort. It keeps coming into the neighborhood and it was going onto our sister’s porch.”
Another lady had a bear on her porch. Fortunately she wasn’t home and the bear was chased away into the bushes by a dog just before the hunters could get a shot off anywhere other than the air.
And the bear came back!
A couple young men watched for that bear at its favourite garbage bin and bounced a two fist sized rock off its head to scare it away.
The bear still came back.
Gloria Frank said, “it just keeps the dogs barking and the barking keeps us awake and we have to be at work at 6:00am. It was running across our lawn the other night and the dogs were chasing it.”
Tom Curley said a bear was on his porch too, but he seemed somewhat relaxed about it, he said, “It didn’t do anything. Maybe it’s just looking for food.”
Curley said they cut down a lot of the trees and bushes at the golf course and now there are not too many berries there. He thought that may be a reason we’re having so many bear sightings right now.
The sad part is that it’s the bear’s boldness that is putting both the humans and bears at risk and it’s humans that create that boldness. Gloria Frank said, “There are humans dumb enough to feed them. I’ve seen tourists stop and take pictures and feed them when we’re driving to Ucluelet or Port Alberni. Then if the bears see another human they think they’ll probably get food off them too and they forget they’re wild and nature’s garbage collectors.”
TFN Chief Councilor Moses Martin said, “Bears aren’t anything to be afraid of. If you don’t bother them they won’t bother you.” (This is from a man who hunted and trapped much of his life and was known to at least on one occasion chase a bear up a tree.)
Adults are cautioning their children to be careful. Gloria Frank tells her grandchildren, “Don’t go out alone. Bears are around all the time, not just in the evenings. They shouldn’t go out alone with the bears being so bold. You never know how hungry they are if they’d attack a child. Whenever a bear is around we call parents of young kids and tell them to keep an eye on their kids.”
Levi Martin talked about special protection in relation to bears. He said, “part of our teachings was to talk to them. Like when we were in the bush we call on our wolves to protect us and the wolf is supposed to keep the bears away. I guess that’s why we never saw any bears. We were picking berries all the time and we never seen any bears.”
Tom Curley advises what you should do if you come across a bear. “If you’re not making any noise when coming up to them and surprise them their automatic reaction is defense. It may run towards you but not attack you right away. It’s just testing you to see if you’ll run away. But don’t do that. Stand your ground and make lots of noise.”
Curley went on to say, “My mother used to tell us when we were going back to Kakawis on Sunday, let the chims (bear) and cougars know you’re coming and they’ll get out of your way. We never did meet up with a cougar or chims.”
Gloria Frank said she’d give similar advice to a child if they came across a bear, she said, “not to bother him. If the bear was aggressive I’d tell them to make themselves look bigger and try to scare it away.”
If the bear doesn’t notice you try to leave quietly said Tom Curley. He also noted they’re least dangerous when they’re eating. He said, “As long as the bear is eating it won’t bother you much, but if you meet up with one when you’re walking that’s when you have to be cautious because it’s not occupied.”
Nuu-chah-nulth have lived with bears for centuries. Levi Martin says the people rarely saw them and thought that maybe it was because of the protection from the wolves. Curley also said he remembers his Auntie Margaret telling him the bears were sacred highly respected animals and once when he saw one shot, its cries sounded human.
“The only time I can remember the old man shot a bear and we skinned him and ate him,” said Levi. Tom Curley and Gloria Frank also remember elders eating bear meat. Gloria remembers her grandparents smoking it and Tom Curley remembers his Auntie making stew out of it.
“Never be quiet when picking berries” said Tom Curley. “That’s why the ladies were always singing and doing something. I was thinking about that lady that met up with one right in the bushes. Usually they’re real noisy, I don’t know why she was being quiet that time – it was Mamie Lucas telling me, Simon Lucas’ mother. In the old days bears don’t take the ripe berries, they like the sour ones that are kind of green. This Hesquiaht lady was picking berries, she was real busy and pushed some bushes aside and there was a bear on the other side.
It had its eyes closed – like little kids whey they’re enjoying chumus, everything else just disappears. …They enjoy the sour berries more than ripe ones and that’s why that bear had its eyes closed and didn’t even realize that lady was there.”
By Carla Moss