The History of Big Bear.
Chief Big Bear (1825-1888)
The Great Cree Leader, Chief Big Bear, has entered the history books as one of Canada's most feared, yet profoundly misunderstood, First Nations leaders. Born about 1825 to the Cree/Ojibwe Chief Black Powder, Big Bear assumed power while still a young man after demonstrating his spiritual power and leadership qualities.
When Treaty Six was negotiated in 1876 between the Cree Nation and the Dominion of Canada on behalf of the British Crown, Big Bear was not summoned by Canada and arrived after the Treaty was concluded. Big Bear refused to accept treaty arguing the terms were insufficient and that forcing the Cree Nation onto reserves was like putting a rope around a person's neck, denying them freedom on their land.
Following 1876, Big Bear became principal Chief of the Crees on the Western plains as many disillusioned Crees joined his expanding tribe. However, Big Bear was forced by starvation to adhere to Treaty Six in 1882 and settled into the Frog Lake area.
When the North-West uprising broke out in 1885, Wandering Spirit, a War Chief, took over Frog Lake and most of the white inhabitants were killed. Wandering Spirit stayed in power for the duration of the uprising while Big Bear counselled for peace and protected the white prisoners. The Government of Canada held Big Bear responsible, convicted him of treason-felony, and sentenced him to three years in Stoney Mountain penitentiary. Released early due to a health breakdown, he died January 17, 1888 on the Little Pine Reservation, some say he died of a broken heart!
Big Bear stands tall in the memory of the Cree Nation as a proud and truly visionary leader who fought against the forces of Canadian colonialism and ultimately suffered for his nation. The tragedy is that the remnants of Big Bears tribe continues to be scattered across Montana, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The Big Bear Singers first formed in Thunderchild Saskatchewan, Canada in 1973. Gary Okanee Sr., former lead singer of the first generation of the Big Bear Singers maintains the beat that was started 34 years ago. The new generation of the Big Bear Singers which started in 1997 consists of Gary Okanee Sr., Gary Okanee Jr.(Drum Keeper), Gerald Okanee Sr., Luke Okanee, Everette Okanee, Willard Okanee, Lazz Roan, Shawn Jake, and Lee Tootoosis
The Big Bear Singers believe that if you take care of the drum, it will take care of you! They have a tremendous amount of respect for singers and drum groups, especially up and coming singers, and encourage young people to get their education while maintaining the traditional ways of life. They love to travel and meet new people! Their main goal is too make everyone feel good about themselves and to get them to get up and dance!
The singers have won many singing contests across Canada and the USA and have taken the honor of being Host Drum at many powwow functions. They are very humble and keep the fact in mind that you may win one weekend and you may not win the next, but too keep that friendship and resepect with other drum groups.
The Singers have released 7 CD's, the first one was with Noon Records, which was self titled "Big Bear". The 2nd release was titled "Big Bear Singers - Spirit Dancer", which was recorded with SweetGrass Records, then came the highly anticipated "Big Bear - Live@Ft.Hall". In March of 2004 "Big Bear - Live@Tempe"was recorded. Both Live@ Ft.Hall and Live@Tempe were recorded with Indian House. The latest release was in April of 2004, "Big Bear - Round Dance Style" recorded with Turtle Island Music. Another CD Big Bear/ Whitetail recorded with DrumHop Records that was recorded live at San Manuel Powwow. They also recorded a round dance CD. The latest CD to be recorded was Big Bear Singers "Outta Hibernation" recorded by Singer's Choice Productions. They also did another recording at the 207 Thunderchild Powwow which marked the 10 year anniversary of the 2nd Generation of the Big Bear Singers! The recording was done with Rezonance Productions!
The Big Bear Singers would like to thank their families for their understanding and support of the group and especially undying love! They would also like to thank those that have offered words of support and encouragement throughout these years! To our adopted families out there in Indian Country, thank you for all the love!
To the women who stood behind us(Big Bear) on the powwow trail and pretty much through our lives - Doris (Mom), Bobby-Jo, Louise, Aly, Maggie, Lacy- Hiy Hiy!!
To Tony Issacs and Indian House, Turtle Island Music, SweetGrass Records, Noon Records, DrumHop Records, Singer's Choice Productions, Rezonance Productions, Sidrick "Mister" Baker, Shane "Toots" Dion, Rylan Baker, Nelson Baker, Sidrick Baker Jr., Mitchell Baker, Gerald Baptiste, Cornell Tootoosis, Lazz Roan, Charlie Thomas, Troy Tootoosis, Bill Runsabove, Amos Yazzie, Randy Phelan, Jude Phelan, Tony Phelan, Jacob Faithful, Eric Faithful, and many more for your participation and contribution in various singing contests and recordings.
The Singers would also like to thank these families, The Quinneys, The Okanees, The Baptistes, The Bulls, The Phelans, The Bakers, The Yazzies, The Tootoosis', The StandingRocks, The Roans, and those that have invited the group to various powwows to attend as either Host Drum or Invited Drum, thank you for keeping us in mind!
Shouts out to these Drum Groups: Whitelodge, Crooked Lake Agency, Northern Cree, Maskwa Ridge, Mandaree, Bear Creek, Whitetail, The Boyz, High Noon, Mina Peyak, Midnite Express, Mad Dog, Young Spirit, Young KingBird, Dry Lake, North Bear, Pipestone, ThunderHouse, Bad Nation, Eyabay, Eyahey Nakoda, Red Bull, RedStone Ojibwe, Southern Boyz, Southern Thunder, Meskwaki Nation, Young Bird, Sizzor Tail, Thunder Hill, Southern Outlawz and many more!!
For those that are going through tough times in their lives, we sing and dance for you, in hope that the powwow spirit will give you strength each day to get by. We are here as family and friends for support, and to the dancers and singers out there and many powwow people, good luck and safe travels on the trails!
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Gary Jr's son - Drake aka Gary Jr. Jr.
Gerald Sr's son - Gerald Jr.
Zoe, Taci and Hailey
Alice, Taci, Nizhoni, Gary Jr. and Maggie
Part of the Big Bear Family!!