Bears were an important part in Native American Indian culture as various symbols of strength, hard work, and even great love. Many tribes considered the "Great Spirit" to often take on the form of a bear. It would lead hunters on great chases and could die only to be reborn in the spring. Bears were mythical and "magical" creatures that existed.
The Native Americans used the Great Bear to explain the seasons. It rises up in the spring, waking up the earth and bringing things to life. As summer approaches, The Bear runs across the top of the heavens avoiding hunters; its hot breath flows across the land to make the world hot and sweaty. In August, the bear gets caught by the hunter and shot to fall on its face. The blood of the bear falls to the earth, resulting in showers and also the leaves changing colors, mainly red and orange. Through the winter, there is no life in the bear and thus the earth is cold and lifeless.
Yes, for the Native Americans the bear gave life to the land. The bear was therefore a Mother-symbol. It was fiercely protective of its cubs, so were Indian women. The women did planting, sowing, and the raising of the children, men did protecting and hunting.
And then there were white bears in some places known as spirit bears. These are from a recessive gene found in Black Bears and now know as Kermode Bears, they were not polar bears. They were gifts of the "Great Spirit" to remind people that they once lived in a land of ice and snow.
But the bear was also a hunter that knew the land. They were quick, big and powerful, and also considered extremely clever; outfighting cougars and wolves. A Native American with the word bear in his name was considered to be an excellent provider as well as a powerful warrior. Bears were not gods, just made by God.
Many Indians were scared of the grizzly bear. It is amazing that they hunted the large bears for food, clothing, and the claws were made into necklaces. These necklaces were considered to contain spiritual power, wearing a bear claw necklace would mean protection and good health to the Indian wearing it. They were never traded, though could be given as a special gift.
Unfortunately this symbol of the Native Americans was almost brought to the point of extinction by the use of guns, but it is making a comeback. So enjoy the bear, respect the bear and, if you encounter a Mother Bear, get away!