Spring officially arrived on March 20. As we all know, different people around the world celebrate the new season in many ways. In Utah, our Native Ute Tribespeople have their own spring tradition called the Bear Dance. This year, the four-day Southern Ute Bear Dance will begin May 27 in Pine River, Colo.
There's not just one Ute tribe—they are an old group of people that roamed and settled throughout the West, and in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, northern Arizona and New Mexico. The ones in Utah settled near water and lakes where there was great hunting and fishing and, banded with other natives into groups like the Uintahs, the Pahvants, the Weenuchiu, the White River Utes, the Uncompahgre and inter-married with Goshutes and Paiutes, the Sanpits, Timonogots, Moanumts and Sheberetches in Moab. There are several other bands that I've been reading about but I'm not sure I can do justice to their genealogy. Tribes and bands traded with each other throughout the area—pottery from pueblo people, baskets from others, quality hides for clothes and shoes. They were unique travelers, too, because they were one of the first major tribes to capture and train horses that had come to the area via Spanish explorers in the 1600s.
While it happens in the spring, the Bear Dance is not only a celebration of the new year for Utes, but a time for non-Natives to rejoice as well. Look around—the trees are blooming and their leaves are coming in strong. Birds are nesting. The light is different. Baby animals are showing up. The abundance of nature is coming back after a long winter sleep and a new cycle has begun. The Tribe (under the direction of the Chief and Tribal Leaders) gathers to dance and drum and applaud the reality and metaphor that the bear has awakened from his hibernation. Utes believe the bear gave the tribe this dance and its purpose is not just spiritual but also social. A few centuries back, tribesmen would choose their wives at the Bear Dance. But now it's more likely folks will meet up from different bands to meet and greet and see old friends.
Anyone can go to the Bear Dance. Photos and videos are not allowed except by members of the Ute Tribes. There will the corral blessing on Friday, May 27 and a feast on Monday, May 30. If you're in the Pine River area around Memorial Day weekend, it's a Native tradition not to be missed.