The Temptations of Big Bear

Overview

“What can that mean, I and my family will have a ‘reserve of one square mile’?”

So asks Big Bear of Governor Morris, come to impose a square treaty on the round, buffalo-covered world of the Plains Cree. As the buffalo vanish and the tension builds to the second Riel Rebellion, Big Bear alone of the prairie chiefs keeps up pressure for a better treaty by refusing to choose a reserve. He argues, “If any man has the right to put a rope around another man’s neck, some day someone ...

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Overview

“What can that mean, I and my family will have a ‘reserve of one square mile’?”

So asks Big Bear of Governor Morris, come to impose a square treaty on the round, buffalo-covered world of the Plains Cree. As the buffalo vanish and the tension builds to the second Riel Rebellion, Big Bear alone of the prairie chiefs keeps up pressure for a better treaty by refusing to choose a reserve. He argues, “If any man has the right to put a rope around another man’s neck, some day someone will get choked.”

It is Big Bear’s story – and the story of Wandering Spirit, of Kitty McLean and John McDougall–that is told in this novel with rare and penetrating power. Permeated with a sense of place and time, this eagerly awaited work by Rudy Wiebe reflects the author’s sensitivity to the Canadian prairies, their history, the minds and hearts of their diverse people.

Exploring Big Bear’s isolated struggle, Wiebe has encompassed in one creative sweep not only his hero’s struggle for integrity, but the whole range and richness of the Plains culture. Here is the giant circle of the prairie horizon, and the joy, the sorrow, the pain and the triumph and the violence of unconquerable human beings faced with destruction.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Temptations of Big Bear is one of the best [novels]…ever written in Canada." — Maclean's

"Something like a true story, The Temptations of Big Bear is social realism raised to the level of elegy…A gorgeous lamentation." — Saturday Night

“A very rare, complexly emotional and profoundly philosophical experience . . . . A fictional meditation, in which [Wiebe] enters the very texture of the lives of his characters, Indian and white . . . . He has created a style for [Big Bear’s] incredible voice that fully wins our belief in its greatness and power . . . . A masterpiece.” — Edmonton Journal

“Wiebe captures the pathos and the emotion of Native people at a certain point in their history and he does it well . . . . Wiebe points out to us that Canada has not come to terms with Native peoples, that there is unfinished business to attend to.” — Thomas King

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780771034541
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
  • Publication date: 2/28/1995
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REISSUE
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Acclaimed as one of Canada’s foremost novelists, Rudy Wiebe’s reputation began in 1962 with the publication of his first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many. Born in Saskatchewan in 1934, he spent his youth there and in Coaldale, Alberta. By the time he graduated from the University of Alberta he had already published a number of poems and short stories. In 1963 he taught at Goshen College, Indiana, and later, after studying creative writing at the University of Iowa, returned to the University of Alberta, where he continued to teach in the English Department. His short stories have appeared in Tamarack Review, Fiddlehead and Prism international. Besides editing several story anthologies, he has published three other novels, First and Vital Candle (1966), The Blue Mountains of China (1970), and Peace Shall Destroy Many (1962) which is now available in a New Canadian Library paperback reprint.
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Read an Excerpt

“I see this room crowded with – handsome faces – faces handsomer than mine even when I was young. I have been the leader of People in this country for a long time; People rode from four directions to hunt with me. I never put a chain on anything. I stand here an old man, and I will be sent somewhere with this chain. No doubt these handsome faces I admire will know how to care for the land. No doubt, better than I. Perhaps they will also be able to care for my people, now that I am gone. My people are hiding in the woods, terrified – those are my children, and they are starving, driven from the land which was our great inheritance and they are running, somewhere, in the darkness, afraid to show themselves in the big light of day. Oh, when I stand on the ground with the sky over me I pray to That One whose finger drew us from Earth and spread it out for us like a big blanket, Forgive them, they are hungry and terrified, forgive them! Have you no children? Have they never asked you for food? Is there nothing but punishment in the Grandmother’s law? When a young man of the River People leads other young men rashly into a bad raid and one of them is left on the plain, that leader returns to camp and falls down before that father, that mother, and he cries for forgiveness. Then the mother touches him, the father lifts him and holds him to his breast and there is a son again in that empty lodge to make them happy, to care for them when they are old. Who can say here why the dead are dead? Who can give them life again? I say there will be a time soon when the Grandmother will be very happy for every one of my people that live in the North West. I plead with you, chiefs of the white law, have pity! Pardon the outcasts of my people!”

The judge had no eyes. On the motionless head the egg-shaped glasses sat glazed gold.

“There are only a few words left,” Big Bear said, softly. “This land belonged to me. When I had it I never needed your flour and pork. Sometimes I was stiff with Indian agents who looked at me as if I was a child and knew less than a child. Before many of you were born I ran buffalo over this place where you have put this building, and white men ate the meat I gave them. I gave them my hand as a brother; I was free, and the smallest Person in my band was as free as I because the Master of Life had given us our place on the earth and that was enough for us. But you have taken our inheritance, and our strength. The land is torn up, black with fires, and empty. You have done this. And there is nothing left now but that you must help us.

“I have heard your many words, and now you have heard my few. A word is power, it comes from nothing into meaning and a Person takes his name with him when he dies. I have said my last words. Who will say a word for my people? Give my people help! I have spoken.”

For a moment the thunder of his voice battered the room; the answering sound of River People rose behind him, almost as if for an instant the old man stood again in the strong circle of his council. Then Peter Houri’s voice spoke and the English voice came immediately, quiet as always, but now more than ever as he would not expect it from so thick a body, though covered with black; thinly hard like steel:

“Big Bear, you have been found guilty by an impartial jury. I have no objection to hear what you have to say, but on one point you must be corrected. This land never belonged to you. This land was and is the Queen’s. She has allowed you to use it. When she wanted to make other use of it, she called you together through her officers and let you decide which of the choicest parts of the country you wanted, to reserve them for yourself. Your people can live there because the Queen has graciously given it to them. The land belongs to the Queen.

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