Bear Boy LaRose, (also known as Guelga Apa Vu) Ute Sun Dance Chief, medicine man, traditional ceremonialist, artist, singer, and Dance For All People Elder passed to the other side camp on 8/22/04 from a long illness and complications due to diabetes. Clyde Hall shares some heartfelt history with Bear:
Remembering Bear Boy
by Clyde Hall
The first time I ever heard of Bear Boy LaRose was in the 70’s. At that point I was involved in traveling from place to place with Pow Wow dancing. I had heard that Bear Boy was a sub-chief for the Ute Sundance, and that he was involved with the American Indian Movement as I was at the time, but I never had the opportunity to meet him. The first time I met him was through the group Aho Mitakuye Oyasin (established by Charles Lawrence), which my Aunt, Emma Pohipe Dann, had become involved with in the late 80’s. Bear Boy was one of the Indian people that became interested in the Aho Mitakuye Oyasin group at the second dance they had in Cedar City, where Bear and a friend of his watched the proceedings the whole night on a hill before they decided to come down and join the ceremony. Bear later on decided to become involved with them.
My first meeting with Bear Boy was due to an invitation that my Aunt Emma extended to me to attend one of the Aho Mitakuye Oyasin Ceremonies. I went up to the winter ceremony of 1986 in Brighton Canyon, east of Salt Lake City. My brother/friend Cowboy Jeff Ward and I went there, but we were not prepared to stay because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into by being there. But Auntie Emma had invited us, so I said I would go. Her comment at the time was: “You’ll like them, they’re nice people! ” And then she showed photographs of the Fall Ceremony she had attended.
So Jeff and I walked up the hill to the lodge in Brighton Canyon. When we arrived, it was kind of like a throw-back to the 60’s, where everyone was dressed in tie-die, drums going, rattles, and everything. Auntie Emma and Carolyn Twangyama (Charles’ adopted Hopi Grandmother) were sitting there in big chairs covered in Pendletons, like Indian queens. Everybody seemed terribly nice, but over there in the corner was this Indian man, so I went over and shook his hand. He introduced himself: “I’m Bear Boy LaRose. ” So I introduced myself and my brother Jeff to him. He had the nicest open smile which was a very welcoming, and his voice was very pleasant. You should know that with many Indians there is a kind of reservedness when we first meet other Indian people, but there was a ready openness and gentleness with this man that I liked. They say that the first time you meet somebody, that’s pretty much the script of how things are going to go in your association with this person, so it was the beginning of a very wonderful friendship and brotherhood with this man. It was an adventure that would take us eventually to the Naraya, but would also take us to many other interesting places together.
One thing he always told me was this: “Brother, I will be there for you any way that you need me. I will always be by your side.” When he said this, he actually meant it! That feeling was likewise with Bear Boy, and I was that way with him too. If he needed help from me, I was always there for him, and sometimes under very interesting circumstances.
Bear Boy and I continued our association with the Aho Mitakuye Oyasin group. He always had an interesting way of doing things. Once they got a big drum, but they didn’t know what they were doing with it, they were just pounding on it any old way. Bear Boy was just looking at them through his sunglasses like he does, and I said “Bear, you have a great reputation for being a singer, why don’t you teach these wonderful people some songs, and how to use that drum right?” He looked at me and said: “Why don’t you do it?”, and he laughed. So I took it upon myself to form a drum society with them, teach them songs and how to use and be with the drum.
My acquaintance with the songs that we sing today for the Dance For All People was through Emma. The first time I heard the songs was when we were on tour through Europe in 1973 in the World Festival of Theatrical Arts. She sang the Butterfly Song and the Mountain Fog song as part of our stage performances through Europe.
With our participation in Aho Mitakuye Oyasin we met a young man by the name of Dan Blanchard who had quite an ear for music among other talents, so she started teaching him the songs. He would say “This is what I learned from Emma!”, and he would sing these songs that she was teaching him.
One of Emma’s fondest dreams was to revive this dance and ceremony which was no longer being practiced on the reservation in Fort Hall. So with consultation and permission of Auntie Em, Dan, Bear and I started doing segments of this dance with the Aho group, singing three or four songs with Emma teaching the ritual of the dance. We would do this way late at night after the Aho Gatherings because we didn’t want the people that were just mildly curious about it to participate. We wanted people who were really really interested to make the effort to come. So Bear was there, right at the beginning of the early stages of what we now call the Dance For All People.
In 1990 we were again at the lodge in Brighton Canyon, and one of the things we wanted to do was an observance, acknowledgement, and commemoration of what happened at Wounded Knee in 1890. We decided that during the winter Aho Mitakuye Oyasin Gathering that we would perform the songs and ritual in its full context for one night. We had a tree brought up, and sang the songs and did ritual for the first time at its fullest as Auntie Em so gracefully showed us. Again there was Auntie Em, Carolyn Twangyama, Bear Boy, a number of other Indian people, and all the Aho folks. We taught the songs to them, and danced the dance for the first time in forty years in 1990.
That July of 1991, I brought the offer to have the dance in New York to Charles Lawrence and the New York Council, and the rest is history.
Auntie Em could never come to any of the dances in New York because she had had a serious stroke in 1990 which prohibited her from traveling for any length of time. But she was always curious and supportive of what we were doing here, and always wished the best for us. After being my teacher for over thirty years and traveling companion to some fifteen countries, Emma finally passed on July 3, 1998.
As far as Bear Boy was concerned, after the old sundance chief for the Utes stepped back, Bear Boy took on the authority of the Ute sundances. With new responsibilities neither of us got to spend as much time together as we would have wished, although we were keenly interested in what the other was doing, and did get to visit one another on occasion. Yet it wasn’t until the first dance in Utah in 2000, nearly ten years later, that Bear Boy turned up at our Dance, but he was not well. Bear for many years was suffering from diabetes. He believed full faith in Indian medicine. He would try western medicine for awhile–– taking medicine and pills–– but his belief was always strong in Indian medicine. Yet he was still having problems with his legs and feet. He came to the dance, and he said “Brother, you know I am not well, and I’ve come here for help.” Through the prayers and help of Pete Yellowjohn and the people at the dance, he felt a lot better. He truly believed what the dance could do for him, that it could make him well. And for awhile it did make him well.
Bear Boy decided to take a more active role in the Naraya, which I fully supported. I was delighted that he took and interest in our goings-on and our ceremony. He said to me: “Do you think it would be alright if I went with you to other dances, and helped you out any way I can?” And I replied “Yes! that would be good, whatever you want to do to help the people would be appreciated. It would be an honor for you to participate.” And he responded “Yes, that’s what it’s all about, helping the people. I’m there for you, whatever I can do.”
While he traveled to all the dances over four years, Bear took a particular liking to the community in New York. And for a traditional Indian from White Rocks, Utah, to take a liking to New York City and to take a liking to the New York community was quite wondrous and phenomenal. In the years that he came to the NY Dance he led the “high-mass” pipe rituals at the end of ceremony, gave many individual healings, and offered words of wisdom (that we could never hear! on purpose!) always dressed as an inspiration to the people. What he did with his full participation in the NY Naraya was a tremendous loving gift for the people of New York to help them with deeper understandings of the Indian spiritual process. And through his workshops he helped people of the community to create items and songs as part of preparation for spiritual ritual, showing us a deeper sense of community. ￼ While Bear Boy had his ups and downs, his health would never waver his determination to show up for Ceremony. When Bear showed up for the Utah Naraya in 2004 his health had deteriorated badly, and we had to take him to the hospital right from the dance. The Utah Community rallied immediately in support of Bear, as did many. He fought the good battle, the warrior that he was, still teaching us every step of the way. Bear Boy made his final walk over the milky way or “dusty road” to the other side camp on August 22, 2004.
Bear Boy loved us all. As he loved the Dance For All People, the Sun Dance, and the ways of the Sacred Pipe and all the other traditional things and ways that he loved so dear and held so sacred. He was willing to share so much of these things with us, that is his gift, that is his legacy. If we can hold even a tiny bit of what he taught us in our hearts… and the way we live our lives day to day, we will be a better people, and the world will be a better place. As he used to say: “Treat each other kindly and with respect”. “Remember the good things”. “Help the people, help yourself”. “Got it?” “I’m there for you, whatever I can do.”. “People, we want to grow old together”…
The thing I always have to remember about Bear Boy was that he had made a special kinship with me as brother-friend, and was always there to support me in any way possible. Likewise, he was also genuinely concerned with anyone who had a quest for spiritual understanding and assistance. That was the main work in Bear’s life, helping the people. When he said “helping the people” he didn’t just mean Indian people, he meant all the people on the medicine wheel: red, white, black, and yellow people, because they were truly all his brothers and sisters. He had a way of looking into a person heart, and if he found that person’s heart good, then he would honor that and help them to no end. He always looked for the spiritual goodness in all people, that was Bear’s most important work, and the most important thing he ever did.