Touching Spirit Bear

Touching Spirit Bear Glossary

Ancestor Rock

Edwin instructs Cole to carry this "ancestor rock" up a hill on the island each day, in honor of his own ancestors and the unity of all human life. When he reaches the top, he is supposed to role the rock back down the hill, symbolizing his anger.

Anger Dance

Edwin tells Cole that he must dance the anger dance in order to fully heal his anger, but he must be ready for it. When Cole does dance it, he reenacts the attack of the Spirit Bear. He dances for longer than he ever had before and feels an immense sense of relief afterwards.


Edwin gives this traditional Tlingit Indian blanket to Cole when he first arrives on the island. It symbolizes a bond of trust and friendship, and Cole is supposed to pass it on to someone he trusts after he learns what he needs from it. Cole chooses to give it to Peter at the end of the novel.

Beaver Dance

Cole sees a beaver in the freezing pond, and he does a beaver dance. From it, he learns how the beaver has "persistence, patience, and ingenuity" in order to build a dam all on its own.

Circle Justice

This is a form of justice with roots in American native cultures that focuses on community deliberation and personal healing for the criminal, instead of mere punishment. See more about Circle Justice in "Additional Content."

Devil's Club

A type of thorny plant. When Cole is mauled by the Spirit Bear, he grabs on to this plant and subsequently has a very painful set of thistles in his hand.


Small village where Edwin lives and where the Tlingit tribe is based. It is the place where Cole goes to receive attention from Nurse Rosey when he is injured by the bear, and it is the place from which Edwin, Garvey, and Cole take the skiff to go to the island.

Eagle Dance

Since eagles soar high above in the sky, Cole learns to stay strong and proud, while keeping a broad perspective from the Eagle Dance.

Freezing Pond

This refers to Cole's daily morning exercise of soaking in a freezing pond in order to clear his mind. Edwin instructs him to do this, saying that it helped him release his own anger when he was left alone on the island.


Cole learns that invisibility on the island does not mean going without being seen. It means not being sensed or heard. In this way, Cole and Peter are able to encounter the Spirit Bear again.


Term for the leader of the circles that comprise "Circle Justice."


This city in Alaska is the closest city to the island with an airport. Cole, Edwin, and Garvey fly there from Seattle on the first trip to the island. It is located in Southeastern Alaska near Canada's British Columbia Province.


The author uses this term to refer to the plane that evacuates medical emergencies in cases of severe trauma or in remote locations. Traditionally, this plane is called a "Medevac" plane, but the author uses an alternative spelling.


This city, in Minnesota, is Cole's hometown. In the beginning of the story, Cole flashes back from the island to Minneapolis to remember how he had gotten to the island, but in the second half of the book, he returns there to recover briefly before returning to the island again.


A type of small watercraft. It is used by Edwin and Garvey to transport supplies to Cole during his time on the island, and it is typical of a small craft used to transport between the small islands around Drake, Alaska.

Spirit Bear

The Spirit Bear is a species of black bear from British Columbia and parts of southeast Alaska. It is notable because it is completely white and larger than the average black bear. It has spiritual and cultural importance to certain tribes of Indians, including the Tlingit.


This is the name of Edwin's Indian tribe. The Tlingit Indian tribe is centered around Drake, Alaska, and Garvey is also a descendent of Tlingit Indians.

Totem Pole

Cole finds a large fallen trunk and decides to carve it into a totem pole. By the end of the novel, it has a series of engravings that represent Cole's journey and healing process.

Whale Dance

In this dance, Cole breaches like a whale, and he learns that he is like the whales because he too does not have a fixed home and is searching for truth.

Wolf Dance

Cole learns from this dance that he must learn from others and seek their help like a wolf in his own pack.