Sleeping Bear Dunes

by Weam Namou

We visited Sleeping Bear Dunes last month. This park covers a 35-mile-long stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline as well as North and South Manitou islands. It was an adventure climbing up and rolling down the sandy mounds that reminded us of Baghdad’s deserts, walking barefoot alongside Lake Michigan, collecting rocks and getting lost while we were at it.

I later learned through online research that the park is named after a Chippewa legend of the sleeping bear. According to legend, an enormous forest fire drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake for shelter, to reach the opposite shore. After many miles of swimming, the two cubs wadded behind and eventually drowned. The mother bear arrived to shore and waited for her cups to appear.

“That’s a touching and nice story,” my Native American friend said when I told it to him. “A lot of tourist places have a mythical story which is the attraction.”

The Great Spirit, I continued, created two islands (North and South Manitou islands) to commemorate the cubs, and the winds buried the sleeping bear under the sands of the dunes where she waits to this day.

“That doesn’t sound like a gift from the Great Spirit,” he said. “It sounds like a mother that couldn’t take care of her cubs.”

He said that the Manitou in Canada originally came from the Michigan region, the Manitou Island, which translates as “the Creator’s Island.” When the English and the Americans were fighting during the Revolution and other wars, most Indians didn’t want to join either side so they went to Manitou Island in Ontario, just to get away from the fighting. When the fighting was over, and they wanted to return, the Americans would not allow them to return because they had alliance with King George at that point. So they had to stay in Canada.

“People in the clan system are still here,” my Native American friend said. “They haven’t gone anywhere. It’s the Sleeping Bear. It’s sleeping because you’re not using it. There are very powerful things there, but no one is using them. They can say there were little bears frolicking around there, whatever, but the Sleeping Bear is always here. It never left. It’s still waiting for good things. And these people that make war they don’t want to wake up the Sleeping Bear, because then the truth will come out.”