Wayward bears fulfill prophecy for Wesley family
“A month ago, my oldest daughter had a dream. She told me ‘Dad I had a vision. A grizzly bear talked to me. Something is out there.’ ”
Lenny Wesley raps his thick, weathered finger across the linoleum table, remembering the conversation with vivid clarity. A Stoney Nakoda tracker and trapper of 40 years , he’s known many bears in the region; sensed their aura, eaten their flesh. Yet very few have appeared as an apparition.
Brown eyes piercing from under a white Stetson, his wizened face grows severe under the heft of the story he’s waited to tell.
“I’m going to tell you about Maggie. And I want you to write this down.”
Biologists refer to her as bear 105, the young mother of three who was relocated north of Hinton a month ago after a harrowing trip through the Bow Valley. To Wesley, she’s Maggie, the bear of feverish dreams and family prophecy, forged to the fate of his children through cultural manacles.
Wesley experienced similar dreams in his past. Seven years prior, a massive grizzly called “Three toes” haunted his sleep for years before he encountered the bear in the aspens behind Highway 68.
“He walked 20 metres from me and made sounds like a Brahma bull. He smelled my aura and I walked beside him. I told him ‘I won’t shoot you, if you don’t bother me. But stake out your territory.”
He knew this bear would also have meaning for the family. Wesley took word of the vision to his father in hopes of finding answers.
“My dad said something will be revealed, but it won’t be revealed until we see the bear.”
The family waited, postponing a trip to Disneyland until they received a sign.
Five days passed. Wesley awoke on his couch as the family scanned the property. Maggie and her three cubs appeared in his pasture, grazing on summer greens. She had fled her home in the Wind Valley to protect her cubs from large males preying on the yearlings.
“It’s not coincidental.”
Wesley asked an elder to watch over Maggie and her family, and asked the community to watch out for this vision bear. The nation hunts bears as part of its traditional land rights, but Wesley said it’s a seasonal hunt, noting the reserve has a bad reputation as a death trap for bears.
“We know what time to take them. The seasons tell us.”
This was not the time for Maggie to die. The elders took up a watch behind the house to watch over the bear family, praying for her, using a smudge ceremony. Wesley said the bear’s eyes lit up at the smell of the tobacco, as she remained safe on the pastureland.
Yet the pull to new lands proved too strong. Shortly after, Maggie and her cubs ended up on the Trans-Canada Highway. Conservation officers and fish and wildlife officers worked to keep her safe as she moved into Canmore. Although she showed no signs of aggression and no interest in human attractants, wildlife officials called for her removal, citing public safety concerns.
Her oldest cub, three years old, was dropped in Kananaskis Country near Valleyview, while Maggie and the other two were supposed to land near Grande Cache. High winds stopped the helicopter flying them in short and they ended up north of Hinton.
Wearily, Wesley folds his massive hands underneath his shoulders and pauses before his next thought. He’s unaware Maggie has survived the trip through Hinton, navigating embattled landscapes to Jasper, where she’s currently living.
“Up north, they don’t know her. She’ll probably get shot. I hope she stakes out a nursery. And as soon as Maggie is out, a boar or a big black bear will show up.”
That part proved to be true. A week after Maggie was taken away, a 400-pound black bear showed up in Wesley’s pasture.
By failing to read the land and understand how bears use the terrain, mark their territory, we doom them, Wesley said, gesturing towards the Silvertip development.
“We have to educate people. Let them know where the bear lines are and not build trails and building in those areas,” Wesley said.
He isn’t the only one upset three female grizzlies were removed from the valley. Sarah Elmeligi, senior conservation planner with CPAWS, said removing those bears from Canmore will hurt grizzly population for decades.
“As a biologist, I’m concerned about the population impact of moving this bear. Bear 105 is a productive, reproducing female. Her cubs are surviving and as a community, we haven’t just lost her, we’ve lost every cub she was going to have,” Elmeligi said.
“In this case, fish and wildlife and Alberta Parks did a lot to keep the bear around. Their effort was admirable. But Banff National Park does not relocate bears, ever. What would they have done differently? I feel the province did a lot, but as soon as she walked into a neighbourhood, it was game over.”
Banff National Park does have bears that live in close proximity to the town. Bear 64 and her cubs frequent the perimeter of highly populated areas, and are managed accordingly. Elmeligi believes the community should be more accepting.
Once Maggie came and went, Wesley said the visions became clear for his daughter.
“Maggie showed extra love and kindness to her young. She let her oldest daughter return to her. Bears can show more love than humans,” Wesley said. “My daughter understood she must show more love and caring for her own children.”
When bear 105’s family was split up, Wesley’s 18-year-old son, called Bear Cub by the elders, also received a message.
“That bear is old enough to live on its own. My son understood that – he was closely connected to that cub. When the family went to Disneyland, my son stayed and watched the ranch. He knows he has to move along.”
Wesley is not a biologist. He swears by his ability to read auras in the wild, to be both predator and prey while in bear habitat. This is based on cultural belief, on 500 years of tradition, living with the rough beasts on valley slopes. It’s taught him to respect the land, and listen to his visions; perchance to dream of a brilliant dawn for his family and bear 105.
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