The Bear and Hunters constellation

Touch the Stars detail: Bear and Hunters, East Coast Native American Tribes

Several East Coast Native American tribes told a story that included this constellation and a number of neighboring stars. The bear emerges from her den each spring and is hunted by seven birds, three of which are depicted here: the robin, who carries an arrow, the chickadee, who carries a frying pan to cook their prey and the Canadian jay. The birds chase the bear through the summer, finally catching up with it in the fall when the robin stabs the bear with the arrow. The bear's blood stains the robin's breast red and also causes the autumn leaves to change color. The bear dies, to be reborn in the spring when the cycle begins again. It is interesting that widely separated cultures such as the ancient Greeks and the Native Americans all saw a bear. Scholars explain this by noting that the orientation of the constellation changes noticeably with the seasons, along with the hibernation cycle of the bear—in the winter it is upside down as if lying on its back. The hibernation cycle of the bear makes it a potent symbol of death and rebirth.

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