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1001 Stories Collection

Mother Bear Story

1001 motherbearstory sebastianscheuer
Added on 11th September 2020

Oral tradition A Haida legend

North and Central America Animals Folk and fairy tales Magic

A shape-shifter story.


One day, a haughty young woman was picking berries in the forest when she slipped in some bear dung and fell. Two handsome young men clothed in bear skins appeared and offered to help her. Instead, they led her to their home, and she discovered that one of them was really a bear prince! She married the bear, and gave birth to twins, which were half bear, half human. However, the Bear Mother’s family never forgot her disappearance, and one day her brothers came searching for her, prepared to kill the bear who had taken her…

Why we chose it

Stories of shape-shifting animals and the consequences of their marriages to humans can be found in many storytelling traditions. Animal transformation stories are great to tell and can lead children to create imaginative transformation stories of their own.

Where it came from

Bears play an important role in the mythology of the indigenous people of Canada and North America. The Bear Mother is a well-known legend among the West Coast First Nations people, specifically the Haida and Tlingit people. The myth has several variants and has been depicted on totem poles and other pieces of art from the Northwest Coast for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. The mother is generally depicted with either a human or a bear face holding her two cubs, which appear in human or animal form, often one of each.

Where it went next

The legend has often been retold in art and literature. In 2008 Elizabeth James retold the legend for children in The Woman Who Married a Bear. Bill Reid (1920 – 1988), a major Canadian artist of Haida and Scottish-German descent, often told the story of the Bear Mother in his work, most notably in the sculpture The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (1986), which represents many different characters from Haida tradition, including the Bear Mother, her husband and their children. The sculpture even featured on a Canadian $20 banknote.

Associated stories

There are many other Native American legends which focus on bears, and they are also one of the most significant clan animals in Native American cultures. There are also European and Asian tales of the Bear’s Son type, in which a bear and a human woman have a child; the child generally grows into a strong, brave man. Scholars have linked the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf to this legend.

Added on 11th September 2020

Oral tradition A Haida legend

North and Central America Animals Folk and fairy tales Magic