Ojibwe Legend: How Did Sleeping Bear Dunes Get Its Name?
Michigan has a lot of Ojibwe legends to explain its many unique features. And we should listen to the legends, I think, since the Ojibwe, and other native tribes were here LONG before the rest of us. So, they know.
But specifically, the legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes, and how it got its name. Also, how the two Manitou Islands came to be.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park gets its name from one dune in particular - the "Mother Bear." And years ago, it did look like a mother bear was laying on top of the dune, on her side, and sleeping. But over the years, the dune has shifted shape, and the mother bear's profile has since disappeared.
But the Ojibwe had their own stories about the name.
There are actually two versions of the story, but both have similar outcomes, which sadly end in tragedy. The National Park Service has both on the Sleeping Bear Dune website.
According to the most commonly accepted story...
"Once, long ago, in the land called Wisconsin across the great lake, there was terrible hunger and many people died. A bear and two little cubs were trying to leave that place and come around the lake where there would be more food.
They walked for many days on the beach together, but after a while the two little cubs began to whimper with hunger, and so the bear decided to swim across the rest of the lake.
They waded into the water, one cub on each side of the bear, and they swam off into the lake a long way. After a while the cubs began to get very tired, and so the bear said, “Try hard, the land is not very far.” And very soon they did come in sight of land.
But gradually the cubs got weaker, and only ten miles away, one cub sank into the water. Soon after, the other also drowned.
The bear’s heart was broken, but she could do nothing. She waded ashore and lay down, looking out on the water where her cubs had died. Eventually, both of them came to the surface as two little islands, and so the bear still lies there atop the dunes, looking after here children."
Those two islands are the North and South Manitou Islands, where Sleeping Bear Dunes are.
The second legend has some alterations to the story.
It tells that the bears were escaping a fire on the Wisconsin Shoreline, and the mother bear actually made it to shore, and watched as her cubs fell just short of their goal. So, "The Great Spirit created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared, and then created a solitary dune to represent the eternal vigil of the Mother Bear."
It's a sad story, but a beautiful tribute.