Native American cultures of past generations considered animals to be of the utmost importance, just as they do today. They had, however, a certain amount of respect that was shown through their fear of the unknown; they felt that the meaning and the spirit behind the animal, as opposed to just its physical being, was something that should be reflected upon.
In the passage on page 74 of Storyteller, narrator Leslie Marmon Silko tells us of the time when she borrowed a gun, specifically a Winchester .30-30, from a man named George Pearl when she was just a young teenager. While she was hunting, she became separated from her uncle and her cousin at a location called Mt. Taylor. She came across a giant brown bear, bigger than any she had ever seen, though she knew that something felt awry. After debating shooting it, she decided that her gun was too small, and that she was not certain if it was real or even alive, and so she walked away.
The picture following this story, an image of “The Buffalo Dancers”, is explained at the bottom of the page as commemorating “…the transformation of the Buffalo Spirit Being into human form and the alliance that existed between the humans and buffalo.” (Storyteller, P 75)This does not explicitly say anything about the bear, but looking at the image, we can assume that the dance was very spiritual and coordinated. The three individuals are in the same positions and dressed similarly, which might signify that they are being photographed mid-dance. The tribe, then, must have respected the spirits of animals. This could explain why Leslie did not shoot the bear; since she was confused as to why it would be there, it could have been thought that to shoot might represent a bad omen.
The next passage, cryptic as it may have been, serves to prove this theory. On page 76, she states that, two years later, her Uncle found a giant mule deer. On her way to help him transport it after it was shot, she went by way of the “south slope,” and although it is not explicitly stated, it is implied in the context of the last passage that she had been here before; it can be assumed that this is where she saw the bear.
She states that she walked past this place deliberately. In the image, you can see that the men are dancing in a “deliberate” way, which explains why she would walk as such at a place where she had run into an odd, or sacred, happening. A wind- something that could denote mystery or the spirit of an animal- moves through the area, and she flees. Her respect for the bear, and its spirit, trumps her curiosity.
The last line on page 76 reads “Sleeping, not dead, I decided.” If this is looked at merely within the scope of this section, it does not seem to make sense. When viewed through the perspective of both the text and image of the two previous pages, however, it provides closure to the arc. In her mind, the bear had been a spirit, and because she had not disturbed it, the wind was viewed as an acknowledgement of her being there, though she knew that it was best that she should go.
Where the stories represent mystery, the picture of the Buffalo Dancers explains why this is felt. Leslie’s connection with the spirit of the bear stems from her tribe’s traditions, as shown in the photo. Though animals were used for food, there was an explicit balance implied between the hunter and the hunted; the picture helps us to make sense of the author’s stories.