A Tribute to the Spirit of White Bear
OSWOLD WHITE BEAR FREDERICKS
I met White Bear about 1941 when I was a young teenager. White Bear often came to our church to tell us about his nation and he came to our home, sometimes every week or two and we talked and listened to his stories and teachings. Our friendship was significant but unfortunately I did not recognize the full importance and influence until it was too late to go visit this old friend.
I did not understand the information he gave us about the history of his tribe. As Frederick Howell wrote in an introduction to a book about the Hopi discussed later in this blog, many scholars who tried to understand the history as told in the involved ceremonies of the Hopi failed to unravel its secrets. White Bear was born in the historic city of Oraibi. A member of the Coyote Clan, nephew of Wilson Tawakwaptiwa, village Chief of Oraibi. White Bear attended Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas and Bacon College in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
This story begins with a New Jersey YMCA Camp, Wawayanda which was located near the Appalachian Trail and was moved for a time to Andover Township in Sussex County, New Jersey. We knew the manager of the camp, Mr. Melby and thus met someone connected to the camp, White Bear.
He told us, as I remember, that 3 young men were sent out from the tribe to teach us non-Indians about the Hopi Tribe. We learned about some of their songs and rituals that were shown to the public and we were taught that the goal of the Hopi Nation was to help us understand the peaceful nature of their people.
As I grew as a teenager I obtained summer vacation time work at the camp and would sometimes get to work near White Bear and observe his activities. There was a large lodge where all the campers gathered to eat and he painted a huge mural of feathers which told a story about the Hopi nation. He painted a smaller one for me which I kept in my room. Many years later the lodge burned and I gave it as a remembrance to the owner of the property. After several years the camp was closed and sold and moved to a location higher in the mountains along the Appalachian Trail. The property was sold to Frederick Hussey and His Wife Nell. Fred and his sister were the heirs of the R.H. Macy estate. The H. in the middle of R.H. Macy stands for Hussey. Fred built a nice home plus a lake lodge which was a great picnic spot and also a large private airport. I used many of the facilities with my Family as a guest of Mr. Hussey and so it was natural that I give him the painting from White Bear showing the mural inside the lodge when it was destroyed
In the photos at the link I have provided you will see that the public stereotyped White Bear and insisted on calling him Chief White Bear and placed him in the role of an Indian brave. He seemed to be teaching young “braves” at the camp to use a bow and arrow and make and wear headdresses. It must have been difficult for White Bear to satisfy his hosts and then try to talk to them about the peaceful tribe of the Hopi. There is an old photo postcard in the link of photos as well. Although it is hard to distinguish White Bear you will see he is wearing a headdress.
When we sat around the dinner table we would listen to his stories and had an opportunity to ask questions. I asked him if they kept their horses in a corral as my friends did on their ranches. He said they did not so I asked him how they would catch the horses to ride. He told me they would run after them until the horses grew tired and then they could ride them. I thought he was teasing me with such a wild story but later, as two of my sons became distance runners I could understand that this could happen. I saw that with training humans could run for many miles and the horses, though strong runners would slow and rest and a youth could then climb on and ride. I also asked if he might be called to serve in our army during the war we were in. He told me no, that they did not know how old he was. Later I learned this was maybe putting me off. I have seen references to his age and the Hopi were not agreeable to fighting in wars.
After the Camp Wawayanda was moved and the land sold, White Bear went to Pennsylvania and worked at a large resort owned by Fred Waring of Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, a well known and popular musical group. One time White Bear offered to help me get a job there but I was going away to school at the time and wanted to be home with my parents during the summers. White Bear did bring Mr. Waring to N.J. to meet my parents. Mr. Waring often went to New York City to meetings and he wanted to leave his children somewhere when his regular staff was not available. He liked my parents and sometimes stopped to chat. My parents offered to look after the children and arrangements were made and a new friendship developed because of White Bear.
A FRIEND IS LOST
After high school I went into the military for 5 years, then college and then tried to build a career and raise a family. I lost touch with my old friend but spotted him one day on television at a tribal meeting where he was described as an elder of the tribe. When I did have the time and resources I searched for him but received the sad news that he had passed away. I have collected a few photos, a piece of pottery with his mark and two copies of THE BOOK OF THE HOPI by Frank Waters with drawings and source material recorded by Oswald White Bear Fredericks.
(View larger photos of White Bear by clicking on info about photos).
One copy of this book has a message to his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Long and signed from “The White Bear” and with his mark and Hopi 1964. It is also signed with a message to “Our Friends” by Naomi White Bear, his wife. This book is a history of the myths, legends, history plays and history of the Hopi. White Bear recorded and translated the stories of the senior spokespersons of the Hopi Nation. It is an interesting description of the beliefs of those who firmly believe they were the first inhabitants of North America and the age of archeological findings indicate they might have been.
Much of the history of this nation revolves around religion and the book has been called the “Bible” of the Hopi. I have read a posting of a tribal member expressing displeasure that White Bear would disclose so much of the guarded rituals of his people.
As I read this book I think of those who feel I should not have this knowledge so I am respectful of the messages and the history behind them. I do not wish to upset the Hopi community and I I do want to learn.
I have read a comment about White Bear from those in his nation who feel White Bear should not have been interpreting the historical information in the book because his wife was a Christian.
In defense of White Bear I ask you to consider that the author,Mr. Waters has studied several Native American Nations and would be aware if the interpreter was not objective in his interpretations. Also remember that White Bear was fulfilling the role given to him by his elders. He was to mix with the eastern people and educate them to the honorable history of the Hopi Nation. And finally, I listened to many presentations by White Bear and observed his presence in our church. He never indicated an interest in our beliefs and was always focused on telling his audience the story of the Hopi. In my collection I have some items made by White Bear in his later years. They are decorated with the symbols of his heritage that he loved to teach us about, fullfilling always the obligation assigned to him by his Nation.
I would like to comment on the history of the treatment of the Hopi by our ancestors. The territory of our nation was claimed for Spain by Juan Ponce de Leon when he visited an area now known as St. Augustine in 1535
But what right gave Spain to take the holdings of the native Indians?
Then, when our ancestors took control they began a systematic annihilation of the native Indians. Bounties were offered for the scalps of these people. It started at New Netherlands in 1641, Connecticut in 1704 and expanded, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Colorado, Dakota and Oregon followed. Mexico offered a bounty in 1835. People were rewarded for killing men, women and babies. The story is horrible as we see what greed did to our country.
There are differing accounts about how the scalping began. Some claim it was in retaliation by Mexico against the raids of the Apache who went into Mexico during the period of about 1690 to 1870 and took livestock. The Apache stated they were desperate and had to raid for food. Mexico claimed they killed Mexicans and took women and children. There were also powerful interests trying to keep war going against the Apache because of the large amount of money spent in Arizona by the military. Many, many thousands of Native Americans were killed, some lost on long marches to reservations, land was taken from them when oil or gold was discovered and many were assigned to live in specified reservations. Many others died from diseases carried by some of our ancestors. Some tribes have been lost and there are no descendants.
The Hopi were given some land but then most of it was allowed to be used by another tribe. We then demanded the Hopi register for our draft and serve in our military. The Hopi were peaceful and did not wish to kill so they were put into prison and when they came home some had to reduce their livestock because there was not enough land available for them, having been reduced by encroachment of other more aggressive tribes.
I do not think we can ask the Native Americans for more than they already had taken from them.
From 1880 to 1882 my Great Uncle, Henry Hurd Rusby traveled the area of Arizona and New Mexico to collect samples of plants and note interesting archeological sites as an agent for the new Smithsonian Institute. How he survived without being killed as he traveled through the countryside looking at foliage is a tribute to his patience and ability to convince the natives and the army to allow him to do his work. I hope the ancestors of White Bear looked after Uncle Henry as White Bear helped me in a later time.
I knew White Bear as a humble man, intent on delivering his message. I never knew of him referring to himself as “Chief” but I did hear others refer to him this way. It was a form of promotion, to get attention by referring to him as Chief. We know his Uncle was a Chief and that the White Bear Clan had an edge on claiming this title. In the early years I did not hear him make any claims. I think the photo you see of him in the headdress that is a nice portrait was used in an ad in a major magazine and I think White Bear had some say in how it was presented. Chief is not used. But in the newspaper and the two postcards, Chief is used in the description I believe it was added by others as a promotional push.
The treatment of the Native Americans is very disturbing and the very, very least we can do is to treat our Native American friends with respect and remember that in most cases, we took the path of the savage and we got what we asked for except from the Hopi. Thank you, White Bear. Thank you for teaching me about the word Hopi, which means peace. You signed the book “So with friendship and brotherhood from Hopiland” I assume you were referring to the “Land of Peace” and I hope our spirits will visit once again on the trail to the place you have prepared.
I think of you when I read the Hopi Prayer that is distributed on the internet. I do not believe it was written by a Hopi and I do not know why the lady who probably wrote it claimed it was from the Hopi. However, it is a beautiful message. My eldest daughter read it at a memorial service for our middle daughter who died of cancer. It was very moving and the words are also appropriate for White Bear. I suggest you Google “Hopi Prayer” and read it with him in mind.
WHITE BEAR GIRL
I would like to mention one of the young ladies of the Hopi Nation.
It is sad when we think of how poorly we have treated our Hopi Native Americans and how we have asked them to serve our country and die for us even after we have seemed to care so little about them.
Many Hopi have served and the Hopi Code Talkers were an outstanding group. Their goal was to prevent bloodshed, not fight wars and they helped us very much.
There were many others in World War II and Vietnam and Korea and in Iraq. It was the death of a young Hopi female who was the first female to die in Iraq. She was given the Native American name of White Bear Girl but we remember her as Lori Ann Piestewa who was wounded trying to take her companions to safety. She died in an Iraqi hospital.
You can read about her on the internet and read about the honors bestowed upon her.
Every one should read about the goals of the Hopi and then read how this girl, whose parent and grandparent are veterans joined the ROTC and fought and died for us. That is compassion of a level that is beyond comparison. I add my thanks and my sadness.
THE FIGHT OVER COAL
I have been reading the history of the battle over the mountain and I find it very confusing. It seems you have to be aware of the financial interests backing the information being put forth.
I hope that an independent study can be done so that the interests of the Hopi can be listened to with an open mind and an open heart and action is taken to protect the Hopi interests. From all I can read, the Hopi have been on the losing side of the land distribution for many years and it is time to review the history and protect the interests of our peaceful friends, the Hopi.
This is a difficult task because we have allowed our congress to build itself a system that requires huge amounts of money to stay in office and these huge amounts are donated by private and corporate interests and the interests of the citizens are lost in the bidding war that is purchasing the establishment of the laws of our country.
Thank you and may you always live in the world of Hopi.
I warmly invite you to visit my main blog. The blog is called A Divine Bullet based on divining or conjuring a silver bullet as a solution to problems. My opinions are based on my viewpoint which has been altered by the gift of friends such as White Bear.
Please come to http://divinebullet.blogspot.com
I will also bring your attention to an interesting blog describing the information in the book.