I am recognized as Norval Morrisseau’s chosen protégé and a teacher, leader, and proponent of his Thunderbird School of shamanistic arts. Beginning my apprenticeship with Morrisseau in 1979, I lived and worked with him at various locations over the years. I assisted with all things paint-related including purchasing supplies, mixing paints, stretching canvases, painting backgrounds, and learning from him by observing his work and methods.
On September 28, 1997, I was initiated in a sacred Bear Dance ceremony by Morrisseau, acting as the Grand Shaman of the Anishinaabe’s Grand Medicine Society. This ceremony took place at the McMichael Canadian Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario, and marked my responsibility to protect and revitalize Morrisseau’s artistic movement. During the ceremony, Morrisseau sang and drummed publicly, something he had never done before or after. This highlighted the importance of the event to him and the significance of passing on responsibility to me.
I wore the hide of a Kodiak Bear adorned with seashells and bells, and I danced to the beat of Morrisseau’s drum by instinct. Toward the end of the gathering, Morrisseau annointed me with a blessing and removed his cowling, placing it on my head. He then spoke to the audience, which included Robert and Signe McMichael, the founders of the McMichael Canadian Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.
A Gathering of the People
The Bear Dance is a traditional ceremony, usually held in the spring. It involves dancers performing intricate movements and gestures while wearing traditional clothing and regalia. The dance is accompanied by a drum and sacred singing. It is a way to honour Spirit and the qualities of renewal and rebirth, as well as a way for Natives to gather together for traditional celebrations. The Bear Dance is often open to the public and accompanied by other cultural events and activities, such as traditional food and craft demonstrations.