Flying with the Eagle, Racing the Great Bear: Tales from Native North America

Told by Joseph Bruchac


In ever American Indian culture, there comes a time in each boy's life when he must walk forth on his own, leaving his home and the protection of his family to prove to himself and to his people that he can survive and grow. Traditional stories passed down from father to son were often used to offer examples of the positive qualities of manhood. Flying with the Eagle, Racing the Great Bear is a striking collection from Native North America of sixteen such thrilling tales in which young men must face great enemies, find strength and endurance within themselves to succeed, and make the transition from boyhood to manhood. 

Reader Activities


In many tales, the focus is of the coming-of-age or the rite-of-passage for young men in the tribe. In some tribes, it is called "crying for a vision" and in others it is known as "the dream fast". Many times, these rites-of-passage ceremonies involve a young man leaving their community to receive special guidance that can help shape the rest of their lives. 

What rites-of-passage or traditions do you and your family have? Did you participate or do you plan on participating when the time comes? If you can’t think of any, research your culture to find traditional forms of “coming of age” traditions, activities, and/or ceremonies. Use the following questions as a guide to create a tale about your experience first hand or to create fictional character that goes through this rite-of-passage tradition. Create a main character and write out the narrative in third person.  

Story Elements 

  • Who is the main character?
  • Where does the story take place?
  • What is the challenge or problem that the main character needs to overcome?
  • What does the main character need to wear and do to achieve the rite-of-passage?
  • Is the community involved? If so, how? (Feast, dance, performance, gift giving, etc.) 
  • What is the lesson learned by the main character that will help with how they will live their life?

Keep in Mind

  • What is the activity or activities that a young person goes through?
  • What is the history and/or meaning behind this event? 
  • What is the significance of this event and what is the young person supposed to learn?

Tribal Rituals within Regions 

Joseph Bruchac met with people and elders from various tribes from across Native North America. He divides the tales into regions: Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and the Northwest.  Use this link to complete a guide for one of the regions highlighted by Jay Bruchac.  

If the link doesn't open, please answer the following questions:

  • Name of Region:
  • Climate:
  • Resources:
  • Food/Diet:
  • Clothing:
  • Type of Home:
  • Weapons/Tools:
  • Transportation:
  • Arts/Crafts:
  • Customs/Beliefs:
  • Tribes From This Region:
  • Other: 

The Role of Animals and Nature 

Throughout the tales and especially in Tommy’s Whale, we are shown how important animals are to the way of life for Native American tribes. Animals are given much respect and are valued. Many animals that Native American tribes relied on for food, shelter, and clothing became endangered due to harmful hunting practices by incoming settlers. For example, the bowmen whale, hunted by the Inupiaq tribe, and the buffalo, hunted by the Cheyenne, was at  the brink of extinction due to over-hunting.

Research and provide a summary on current hunting rights for at least two Native American tribes highlighted in Flying with the Eagle, Racing with the Great Bear. For each tribe, write a summary of all the uses that these animals offer the people in the tribe and current restrictions on hunting practices. Choose one tribe highlighted in the book and write a summary of uses from the animal, overview of ceremony, and current practices (Are these animals hunted? If not, why?)

Take a look at this video to learn more about the relationship with the buffalo:

Supplemental Videos and Materials

A Cherokee Legend of how a young buck becomes a man. While he learns this trial is a trail of life walking with God all his life. "Cherokee Morning Song" on low whistle

Click on the image below to learn more about the First Nations Experience, a local broadcast dedicated to telling the stories of Native Americans across the United States