Missoula hosts its first bear festival 

Missoula’s chapter of The Great Bear Foundation is bringing the first International Multi-Cultural Bear Honoring to the Missoula area May 3-8. While the juxtaposition of phrases like “bear honoring” and “multi-cultural” may harken back to the warm, fuzzy banality of those colored deadhead teddy bears, this event is part of a serious, far-reaching attempt at acknowledging the ways in which the world’s cultures have integrated, for better or worse, with the planet’s eight species of bears.

“The global and local implications of bear conservation efforts are significant because they provide protection for a variety of species and habitats, and promote the welfare of human societies as well,” observes Dave Augeri of The Great Bear Foundation.

Missoula’s chance to honor bears aims to bring attention to the plight of bears and their habitats. Updates and highlights on conservation efforts, as well as indigenous cultures’ legends and traditions surrounding interactions between bears and humans will be the focus of the nearly week-long celebration. “We want people to realize that their environment and habitat is ultimately the bears’,” Augeri says, “that by looking at the global conservation ethic, the welfare of humans and bears is closely related.”

The honoring will be neatly divided into three days of public celebration, featuring workshops, presentations, discussions, slide shows, films, art and music, followed by three more days of ursine awareness based on the customs and traditions of Native cultures. Ceremonial sweats, blessings, a dance, and a pow-wow will round out the weeks’ festivities. At Urey Lecture Hall on the evening of May 3, Peter Aegnst will speak on the Yukon/Yellowstone conservation initiative, which will be followed by a panel discussion on the reintroduction of bears into the Bitterroot ecosystem.

The Great Bear Foundation will host a dinner of ursine cuisine to benefit their namesake on the evening of May 4 at club 140 West. The five-course bill of fare will include salmon, wild mushrooms, glacier lillies, huckleberries, and tropical fruit. But the opportunity to eat like a bear comes at a price: a tax-deductable $50 dollars per person, which includes the chance to hear GBF president and bear biologist Charles Jonkel give the keynote address, and a limited-edition Charlen Jeffery Satromm print depicting a somewhat-local bear and cubs in action. Drinks and dancing begin at 5:30; the bear necessities begin at 7:00. For more details on location and times for events, see “8 Days a Week” or call GBH at 829-9378.

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