By Teresa Morris
Earlier this week we lost a dear friend. For our family, and so many others whose lives were enriched by knowing his friendship, very special memories will endure.
I recall my first having met John Crazy Bear, known to many as ‘Papa Bear,’ in the 90’s when I was teaching courses in American Indian studies at Coastal Carolina Community College and also working as the founding director of Camp Croatan for Kids.
Having Papa Bear enrolled in a number of my classes enriched the learning experience for students of various ages. His genuine thirst for learning, as well as the wealth of knowledge and wisdom gained in a lifetime of experiences that he was always so happy to share, made him a living treasure to all who knew him.
Papa Bear’s connection in holding on to heritage was made evident by the passion he shared in his walking tall and telling the intergenerational stories of “his” ancestral fires… ties to his past as being both an anchor and bridge for the future.
The beautiful, beaded honor necklace that Papa Bear made and gifted to me as a surprise gift in one of the classes I taught not only is a very cherished gift but one of the most important lessons and teaching “tools” ever imparted to me.
On the back of the necklace Papa Bear wrote, “Walk Tall and Tell The Stories – so others will know.” As the founding director of Coastal Carolina Indian Center, I can’t begin to count the number of hands that have held this honor necklace made by Papa Bear’s hands, as I’ve shared it with countless student across the state of North Carolina through Coastal Carolina Indian Center’s Great Salt Water Educational Outreach Program.
Papa Bear’s passion for telling his stories about the life he knew in growing up as an Oglala Lakota helped clear the pathway for sparking an important and much needed conversation and educational initiative.
The moving forward in building a new educational bridge began nearly a decade ago with the Great Salt Water Educational Powwow in Jacksonville, NC in 2004.
The Great Salt Water Educational Powwow, in turn, helped cleared the pathway for CCIC’s Great Salt Water Educational Outreach Program to go on the road.
Holding on to heritage is not something that one decides to do all of a sudden, or from time to time, rather it’s a heart thing that is instinctively lived by some in a way that’s as natural as breathing in and out.