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On March 28, 2008, Darin “Bear” Cadman had what he described as the worst day of his life.
He was driving his family to church in Missoula, Montana, early that morning when a car slammed into his pickup truck.
“I never heard [the other driver] hit the brakes," Cadman recalled. "I just heard the loud metallic crash. I couldn’t see for eight hours. I could hear the ambulance guys, but I couldn’t see anything. It slowly came back to me when I was lying in the hospital.
Cadman had been working as a drywalling contractor, but after the hit-and-run, any strenuous movement sent waves of pain up his back. He suddenly found himself unemployed with no way to re-enter the construction field. Even worse, the strain from money troubles caused his family to break apart. At that point, Cadman, who comes from the Kickapoo and Navajo nations, decided to move back to his hometown of Shiprock, New Mexico.
With no other way to make income, Cadman turned to the thing he loved most: representing his Diné (Navajo) culture. He had started dancing in pow wows at 8 months old and maintained a deep love for his community and his culture. Bear busied himself with Diné art — warbonnets, bead work, eagle feather creations. He now has buyers from around the world — Canada, Switzerland, Tokyo, Dubai, Moscow – who have grown to appreciate the Diné culture that Bear displays in his work.
But his next project hit closer to home: picture books to teach children the ABCs through Diné culture.
“I thought it would be really nice to teach students of every color the Native American view of how we see the letters, how we use the letters, how the letters are involved in our language, and how the letters are involved in our cultures,” Cadman explained. “The clan names, the family names, the old names … it is a reintroduction to Native America through the alphabet … just teaching kids the ABCs with some images and words that are very special.
“For instance, ‘B is for Bear. I am a bear. I walk on four legs. I used medicine. I chew medicine and plants. I put it on my wounds. I teach the two-leggeds how to heal.’ That’s the B in the alphabet book. It is all written from that perspective.”
B is for Bear: Alphabet Letters from the Diné, written and illustrated by Darin “Bear” Cadman and published in partnership with The Charity Gurus, is now available for $15, including shipping, at bearcadman.com.
- By Kelsey Sinclair