Tlingit Bear Panel, 2017

Original size is 1341 × 1500 pixels

Alan Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw)

Hand carved red cedar, acrylic

36″ x 30″ x 2″ (91 x 76 x 5 cm)


Bear is one of the most prevalent figures in shamanic art and oral history. As a close relation to humans, the bear is a link between the human and non-human animal realms, as well as between the mundane natural realm and the supernatural. Because of their strength and fierceness, bears are frequently the guardians, protectors, and helping spirits of warriors.

Bear is depicted with a wide mouth and lips, sharp teeth, short squared ears, ovoid eyes, and large clawed feet with the tongue sometimes protruding and extending downwards.

Amongst the Haida, bears are also the clan ancestor of particular family groups that trace their lineage to Bear Mother. In the stories told about this figure, a high-ranking woman who is picking berries steps in bear dung and then insults the bears. A Bear chief hears the insult and, taking human form, appears and abducts her. The Bear chief takes her as a wife and she gives birth to twin cubs with extraordinary powers. The unwilling bride is eventually rescued from the Bear village by a relative and brought back with her cubs to her home village. These human-bear children are considered the ancestors of those who claim Bear as a crest.