Courage is the Bear

By Sarah Lyon

When your last name is the name of an animal (albeit not a companion animal), and you are a Veterinary Assistant student, the comments write themselves. But for Jennah Bear, the connection to animals and the SPCA goes farther; it’s an integral part of her culture, and her childhood.

“When I was little and was asked ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ I always answered that I would work for the SPCA,” says Jennah. “But then an adult would always tell me, ‘No, that is not a workplace, that is for volunteers’, so I found a different career path.”

In 2022, Jennah graduated from Saint Mary’s University with a degree in criminology. A lover of reading true crime, she thought she had found her forever job. But life doesn’t always work out like we planned. “I spent a year working as a barista, and while I can make a great shaken espresso, I knew it wasn’t my calling.”

Jennah worked up the courage to start applying to go back to school. She remembered that love of, and dreams of, working with animals that she had as a child. “I started searching schools that had programs for veterinary technicians and that’s when I saw the Nova Scotia SPCA College of Animal Welfare.” Bear applied for the veterinary assistant program, knowing that she would have a better chance of getting a job after graduation.

After she was interviewed and accepted into the program, Bear reached out to her community band office on the Tobique First Nations (Neqotkuk). They have a program called the Tobique First Nation Post-Secondary Education Program. Bear received partial financial support to go back to school in Halifax.

Well known Mi’kmaq educator, Trevor Sanpass has been interviewed before about the seven sacred teachings that have been a part of Mi’kmaw life from the very beginning. He says, “The traditional laws, also known as the grandfather or grandmother teachings, are at the heart of many Indigenous cultures, including the Mi’kmaw culture. They are the basis for a worldview that is rooted in respect for one another and the natural world. That’s why each lesson is associated with an animal.”

Love is the eagle, respect is the buffalo, courage is the bear, truth is the turtle, humility is the wolf, wisdom is the beaver, and honesty is the sabe or Bigfoot.

In the Wolastoqey language, the word for bear is ‘Muwin.’ “But when the Europeans came over,” says Bear, “They started to ask us what the names meant, and they just ended up using the English version instead because it was easier for them to pronounce and remember. So instead of using the word Muwin, they started calling us Bear.”

Now Jennah is connected even more with animals. She is set to graduate from the Nova Scotia SPCA College of Animal Welfare in August and hopes that her current part-time workplace (the SPCA Veterinary Hospital) will turn full-time. “It has been great being a student while working in the Hospital,” she says. “I work with a few SPCA College alumni so they understand the stress of schoolwork and help me out where they can.”

Jennah recommends that if you want to work with animals, you apply to the college, even if you have a different educational degree. “And if you are an Indigenous student, talk to you band office, there may be a similar program available to help like Tobique First Nations (Neqotkuk).”

That little girl in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick was told she couldn’t have a career at the SPCA. Now, because the woman with the name Bear had the courage to apply to the Nova Scotia SPCA College of Animal Welfare, the future looks bright to Jennah having a career at the SPCA.

On June 21, for National Indigenous Peoples Day, we recognize and celebrate the history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis across Canada.

Sarah Lyon

Sarah is the Director of Marketing and Communications with the Nova Scotia SPCA. At home, she parents rescue dog Mz. Roxy Roller and son Lochlan. Telling the stories of adopters, donors, and volunteers is what makes her tail wag. Connect with Sarah at slyon@spcans.ca or 902-229-8620 today.