Informant: So in terms of where I grew up there are like sand dunes and they’re called The Sleeping Bear Dunes. And so there was there’s like a story. I’m gonna butcher the story, but we would learn it growing up. So, like a long time ago a mother bear and her two cubs had to swim across Lake Michigan to escape a forest fire. And so the bears swam for many hours, because the lake is massive, but soon the cubs got tired? And the mother bear reached the shore first and climbed to the top of a hill to like watch and wait for the babies. And it’s like so so sad, but the cubs drowned within sight of the shore. And so the Great Spirit created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the mother bear and how she had to watch her babies in the lake. And we would go like in third- It’s usually around third grade. We would go on field trips to the dunes and before you go, they would read that story to you.
My informant learned this as part of her education in Michigan. She was actually homeschooled after elementary school, but she said this was one of her most vivid memories from the Michigan school system.
My informant is one of my roommates, a 20-year-old dance major at USC. She’s from Michigan and this performance took place in our kitchen as she was cooking.
This legend is told before children visit the actual site of the dunes, but it’s taught as a story rather than the truth of what happened and why the dunes and the island are there along Lake Michigan. I didn’t realize it until halfway through the performance, but this is a Native American legend and when I asked her if she knew which tribes had this legend, she said that she was never taught the tribes’ names, just that it was a Native American myth. It struck me how this story is told as a Native American legend, but with most of the context stripped from it, so it becomes part of Michigan’s history while still being othered.
For more information on the legend of the Sleeping Bear Dune, see, https://project.geo.msu.edu/geogmich/bearlegend.html
or for more on the appropriation of this story see,