Manataka American Indian Council





February 2011




Bear Motherís Day

by Grandmother Nupah Makah L.Cota


A mother bear awoke with her two new cubs. The surprise of giving birth in a half-asleep state must be one of the gifts of being a bear.  From my seat on the top of the hill, I have been keeping watch now for over three weeks, waiting for her to come out.


During the winter months, the big mound of debris had been one of my stop-off places on the way to the river to fish. I would go by the pile of leaves and tree trunks and see the steam escaping from the hole in the top. The body warmth and breath of the bear kept the tight enclosure warm and snug during the long cold winter. At one time I had gotten close and put my ear to the wall of the den, listening for life signs. I heard the soft mewing sounds of the cubs so I knew she had given birth.


It is hard to imagine that life, so small to such a big animal, could survive without care for the first two or three months of life. A baby bear is no bigger than a kitten when it is born and must find its food source and take care on its own. The mother sleeps, unaware of her new babies, in a half-state of hibernation for the entire winter.


I was watching the sun melt away the snow for days and today, as it was warm, I had hope of seeing the bear emerge.

About noon I was rewarded by a noise and then a paw sticking out of the pile of leaves and debris. Soon a big brown bear pushed herself out of the small opening. Her fur was all matted and she was very thin.


After a look around the area, with her nose testing the wind for danger, she reached back inside and scooped out the two small cubs. For a while they all stood looking around at the ground and blinking in the sunlight. After awhile, the mother bear started toward the river.


The Salmon were running to spawn so this would be her first dinner. I kept low and downwind of her as she reached the river. First, she drank for what seemed to be hours.  Then she pushed the babies back into some brush and waded out into the river. I watched her as she stood in the freezing river water and then, with a lightning-like speed, scooped out a very big salmon. She did not once look toward the place where she had put the cubs. The salmon secured, she ripped it open with one paw while holding it down with the other, and started to eat.


After watching her catch and eat five whole salmon, she turned toward where I was hiding in the brush and stared. I kept quiet and prayed she would not smell my scent. After a few minutes she stood on her hind legs and smelled the air in all four directions. Not scenting any danger she went to where the cubs were hidden. She sat down with her back against the rocks and gathered the cubs to her chest, letting them feed. As the sun started to dip over the hill she led the babies back to the den.


For several weeks they stayed in that area until the babies were ready to travel and the mother had increased her size by one third. Many days I came to watch the bears as they grew and played in the field and the river. Her love and gentle ways with her cubs were a source of wonder to me.


She never grew tired of their playful ways. Even when she was resting she always had time to cuddle them and let them chew on her feet and ears. They seem to know when enough was enough and would come and snuggle into her soft fur and sleep.


Once when a coyote got too close she took her cubs to a safer place. I watched as she took one in her mouth then with her open paw scooped up the other cub and gently tossed it in the air about ten feet ahead of her. She would then drop the cub she was carrying and pick up the tossed one. She then give the one she put down a toss. This continued until she had them near a tall pine tree. Up the climbed and she stood in her hind legs and let the coyote know she was not happy with its undue attention for her cubs. All during the time she was near her winter hut I watched her as much as I could from my safe perch.


I knew that she must have seen me there but, as long as I did not get too close, she allowed me to watch. In all the years in the wilderness I have always given the bear space and respect.  Only once did I have to take the life of a bear. We consider the bear our brother an equal as a human being,  so we do not  hunt them or eat them.


Spring is one that brings forth many new and wonderful things if you truly watch nature.

Mitakuye Oyasin,

Blessings to all Nupah Makah L.Cota



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