Whatever Happened to Sun Bear the Chippewa.
Vince Laduke to Sun Bear.
So who was Sun Bear. To his admirers and followers he was a visionary of New Age and traditional Native American culture but Native traditionalists considered the only vision he had was the balance in several bank accounts he held in various places within the US. He encouraged his followers by dispensing a rich tapestry of religious rites, pop ecology and soothing words of wisdom. When once questioned about his life and times as a gambler in Reno, Sun Bear is said to have answered 'If the Great Spirit wants me to win at craps or keno , I figure who am I to turn down the opportunity'.
Sun Bear was born Vince Laduke on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota on August 31st 1929. His father was Louis LaDuke of the Chippewa and his mother Judith was of German Norwegian descent. Vince was given the name Sun Bear by an uncle who was a Chippewa medicine man. After learning as much as he could about native medicine from his Chippewa relations and friends, he left the reservation at the age of 15. Throughout the next decade Sun Bear drifted around with no particular place to go. It was now the 1950s and he decided he was not going to be drafted and refused to fight in Korea. He was caught by the FBI and in 1956 he served 6 months in Lompoc Prison.
Sun Bear The Actor.
Sun Bear eventually found himself in Hollywood and due to his 'noble' Indian looks he landed small parts in 'Bonanza' and other small roles. Later he found employment assisting a Native Studies programme at the University of California. He also found work with the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada. He was still a regular at the gaming tables and with his winnings and new found skills, he founded the Bear Tribe in 1970. At first the tribe was based at Placerville, California, before long though they moved on to Spokane to a place among 'luxuriant evergreens'
Time For Change.
At Spokane the tribe worked hard to establish a self-sufficient community growing its own crops and keeping its own livestock. They lived in relative obscurity which was what tribe members wanted, a life of peace. In 1974 a young woman named Marlise James joined them. She was a graduate of Columbia University and she felt things needed to change. She changed her name to Wabun Wind and set about changing Sun Bear into a leader of the white-counter culture.
By now Sun Bear had written many papers and theories. He wrote a book called 'The Medicine Wheel' he was assisted in this by follower Adolf Hungry Wolf. The book was an astrological guide and incredibly sold half a million copies. Commercial success followed with the sale of ceremonial pipes, some bringing in up to $150 each. The tribe organised quarterly gatherings, usually attracting around 10000 paying guests over each year.
Sun Bear it was claimed drew only $50 a month but somehow managed to travel for about 40 weeks of the year. Many women followed Sun Bear and many joined the tribe to become his 'special lady' Sun Bear said ' I have shared my energy with a lot of women' Having once been special the ladies found themselves as part of his harem in time. It has to be said that the Mainstream Indian organisations frowned upon this general behaviour, especially the sale of religious artefacts.
As Time Passes.
Although there was a substantial amount of published work Sun Bears' Philosophy was vague. He had a rounded view of life however and was always helpful and full of practical advice. In his last book 'Black Dawn, Bright Day' he returned to his survivalist theme. He foresaw that plagues and floods would challenge mankind in the future. This might now be starting with Global Warming and changes to our weather patterns. He said that north Idaho would be a good area to go to in the USA.
Eyes Across The Sea.
Sun Bear was less optimistic about the UK; he foresaw that in the wake of tidal waves there would be political unrest. As time passed the people of Scotland Ireland and Wales would fare better overall because these people know and remember how to work the land. Sun Bear eventually settled down in Spokane. He died there on June 19th 1992 at the relatively early age of 62.
Sun Bear the Chippewa.
© 2016 Graham Lee