Bear Dancer: The Story of a Ute Girl
This story highlights three years in the life of a teenage Ute named Elk Girl. The three-part story begins with an innocent time in her life, when she is showered with love from her family, friends and community. Wyss provides insight into the dramatic culture of the Ute tribe during the mid-1800s. The author highlights the beauty and symbolism of the Bear Dance, a reoccurring theme of the text.
The second part of this tale occurs during the early 1860s, a transitional time in the West, with white settlers moving into Indian territories and Indians heavily fighting amongst themselves. Elk Girl is kidnapped by the Cheyenne, and she struggles in captivity. Eventually she is rescued by white soldiers, and plans of her return to the Ute tribe are implemented. Throughout the tale, Elk Girl questions her perceptions of good and evil, especially with issues concerning other Indian tribes and the pioneers’ encroachment.
It would be best to read this story aloud with the young reader since there are several disturbing scenes containing violence and abuse. However, Elk Girl provides a wonderful role model for young girls, demonstrated through her strength and determination. Ages 9-12.