Camp Spirit Bear
Founded by Cole Matthews
About Camp Spirit Bear
What is the purpose of Camp Spirit Bear?
A Note From the Founder
I completely lost it when a freshmen, Peter Driscal ratted me to a police out for stealing from a store. I smashed his head into a sidewalk and almost killed him. He was left with speech and coordination. At first, even after hearing of Peter's condition, I did not regret my actions. I thought the Circle Justice I chose was just a way to escape from jail. When I was sent to the island, I was intent on escaping. I attempted to and failed miserably. That was when I first spotted the Spirit Bear. It stood proud and tall with a silky, cream coat. "This Spirit Bear didn't have any right to stare at me. It didn't have pride, dignity, and honor like Edwin had said. It was just a mangy animal" (44). I was mad that it was not afraid of me. I thought intimidation meant power. Out of rage, I burned the shelter my parole officer, Garvey, provided me with.
After seeing the Spirit Bear for the third or fourth time, I was fed up. I attacked the creature that was several feet taller than me. As a result, I was mauled. I was injured really, truly badly. To make matters worse, there was a storm. A brutal storm with lightning and buckets of rain. A tree with a nest full of baby sparrows fell down and I thought "Are you okay?" (79). That was the first I actually cared for something besides myself. I also realized that the world was beautiful, every part of it. I started to wonder how much beauty I had destroyed. Garvey and Edwin found me later. I spent months recovering in the hospital. Garvey negociated with the circle and gave me another chance. i was returning to the island. I knew I screwed this up, there was no more. This time I had to build my own cabin, prepare my own food. I was frustrated. Garvey told me, "You still think life's a free ride. You're still blaming the world for all your problems" (160). From then on, I tried harder. Edwin introduced to some Tlingit healing methods before he left the island. He brought me to a freezing pond early in the morning. He told me I could never get rid of my anger, but I could tame it by focusing on happiness. The pond helped clear my mind and choose between happiness and anger. next came the ancestor rock. The Tlingit elder chose a rock and told me that it represented my ancestors. So, i lifted the rock and started up the hill. As I hiked i imagined each step to be a day in my life. Every time I stumbled, I imagined a day in my life where I had stumbled. When I stopped to catch my breath, I looked back and gazed at how far I'd come. Not just from the ground to the top of the hill, but also from smashing Perter Driscal's head into a sidewalk. I had changed. I realied that I didn't want to spend my time locked up in a jail cell. I was a fool before. Things could be different. Finally, when I reached the top of the hill, I rested the rock on the ground. "Slowly I let go of my ancestors and allowed the stone to become my anger. i knew that I had to quit blaming others, including my father, for my problems. As long as blame still existed, so would my anger. I had to let go, the same way I let go of this rock. With that thought, I sank to my knees and placed both hands against the rock. With a grunt, I shoved it down the slope. As the rock tumbled faster and faster, I felt my body growing lighter, and when the rock smashed to a stop at the bottom, I felt as if I could fly" (166). I danced animal dances and learned from the creatures surrounding me. I even made my own totem representing my story. I carved an animal for each of the events in my life.
Once I had danced the anger dance, something that taught me to forgive, I thought I had healed. When I went to illustrate my healing on the totem, I couldn't think of anything to carve. That was when it occurred to me that I had not healed yet. The only way to heal was to help Peter. I heard news from Edwin that Peter had tried to committ suicide twice. I convinced Edwin to get Peter to come to the island. Peter and I stayed on the island under the supervision of Garvey. Peter refused to talk to me for a while. He even shoved me and destroyed part of my totem. I pleaded with him. He started to talk to me―mostly snarky comments, but it was better than nothing. A while later, he suggested that he and I go to the pond to soak alone without Garvey. I told him I was glad we could finally be friends. In response, he told me we could never be friends and he would never forgive me. I meant him no harm and I would never hurt him again. He started to assault me, but I didn't fight back. I had to show him that he could trust me. I couldn't let my anger get the better of me now. Finally, he stopped kicking and started sobbing. he admitted he was scared and i comforted him. When he was sobbing in my arms, the Spirit Bear appeared. I took this as a sign that Peter and i were finally friends and that I healed for the most parts. I could never recover fully from what I did to Peter, but I came the farthest I could. After all, the Spirit Bear was the whole reason I started to change, so it would only be fitting to see it after I had become a new, different person.
The Evironmental Aspects of Camp
Totem Poles and Dances
Even rehab must have fun and enjoyment added. As any other island, this island involves nature. Animals surround the camp hunting, feeding their young, and playing with their king. I assure you no child will get mauled by any of the animals. One of the most rare, sacred animals on the island is a black bear with pure white fur, a Spirit Bear. As every camper will witness at least one animal in action from a mouse to a whale. After the sun goes down and dinner is served, campers will take turns dancing a certain animal dance. Then they will share one thing they learned from said animal. Observing nature closely assists campers in learning lessons and applying what they learned in their personal lives, helping them heal. Each camper will receive a log found in the woods. They have the oppurtunity to carve their own totem poles and paint them after dinner hours. The purpose of this activity is to create something their story. Everybody has a story. Each space on the totem pole represents an event in your life. They tell ancestry and stories by using animals' faces as symbols. Their totems are their story, their search, their past. That is also the dances are danced: for campers to discover and create their own story
Every morning, campers will have the recommended option to take a soak in our pond. We strongly encourage that they do. The purpose of theis pond is to find tranquility by not focusing on anger. Now I am not saying the pond will rid campers of their anger. Everybody carries anger inside and it always remains. Those who focus on anger will be angry, but those who focus on happiness will always be happy. It is what you make of life. I believe that this pond gives people a choice. It gave me a choice to either focus on the sunrise or the dark clouds. I am positive this will help the campers control their emotions and become happy again.
After the soak, each camper will be given a rock that they will be responsible for throughout the period of the whole camp. The rock will represent their ancestors and campers will carry the rock to the peak of a hill. A very wise Tlingit Elder, edwin, once told me, "Pretend that rock is your ancestors. Climbing this hill is your life. With each step you carry your ancestors with you, in your mind, in your heart, in your soul. If you listen, your ancestors reach out from the rock and teach you the lessons of their struggles. Hear your ancestors. Someday, you'll pass those lessons on to others" (155). When campers reach the top of the hill, the meaning of the rock changes. The rock represents anger. campers will roll their rock down the hill, picturing their anger rolling away. This excercise keeps emotions in check.
Totem Poles and Dances
Inspiration For This Camp
The reason I built this camp was to recover from my past and use the native healing ways on others. Jail doesn't heal the soul, but native traditions do. The Tlingit traditions helped me evolve from an pugnatious, belligerent teenager to a much more tranquil, educated person. If these strategies coud help me, then why couldn't it help others? The soaking pond helped me clear my head and find calmness. "When I breathed again, I noticed that my breaths had cooled as if I was sucking on a menthol cough drop. I also noticed that in the water, my joints didn't ache, nor did I feel ain in my blistered hands. My few thoughts seemed distant from my body. The cold water somehow suspended my whole existence" (164). I was relieved of my pain and past while soaking in the pond. I know that the water will make others feel the same way as it worked on Peter, Garvey, Edwin, and I. "Being alone is what made this place [the soaking pond] so special" (174). This will not be an issue for campers, as the island is vast and holds several ponds.
For cantankerous campers, rolling away all the bottled up anger will be good. I myself used to be someone who let their hatred and anger towards the world and their parents show to any stranger. When Edwin showed me to pretend the rock was my anger and roll in down the hill away from me, I felt lighter without all the fury radiated through my skin. One day, I adnitted to the two Tlingit Indians, "'When I was carrying the rock this morning, I realized that I won't ever get over my anger unless I quit blaming others for everything...I just realized that I'm not a bad person. Nobody is. People are just scared and do bad things. Sometimes people hurt each other trying to figure things out...I hate what Dad does to me but must be just as scared as I am. He doesn't want to be mean; he just doesn' know any better'" (167-168). it was important that I realized this because it helped me get rid of my anger. If the campers learn this about themselves, then they will know that they can change and they were never a bad person. Certain events in their life might have caused them to make bad, impulsive decisions. This will give them self-confidence and esteem, giving them the power to change. Overall, I was inspired to create this camp since I was eager to share the Tlingit ways of healing with others, as helping campers can heal me from my bad decisions and campers will change like I did.