Keith Bear’s name in the Nu E’ta (Mandan) language
is O’Mashi! Ryu Tâ. It means Northern Lights or He Makes the Sky Burn with Great Flame. A self-taught flute player, Bear has been performing since 1986. His critically acclaimed performances include traditional storytelling and the sacred Buffalo Dance, a ceremony which only honored tribal members may perform.
According to Keith, “The Nu E’ta people have had flutes among them for hundreds of years using the wind, birds and water from the Big and Little Missouri Rivers for accompaniment.” His debut recording, Echoes
of the Upper Missouri, reflects Bear’s desire to take each listener on a journey back to the bottomlands as in times passed. In fact, the natural sounds heard on this release were recorded on
location in the ancestral lands of the Mandan-Hidatsa people.
With his follow-up recording, Earthlodge, Keith shares songs of his people, recorded as they were first played, in an earthlodge built on the plains of the Dakotas. Released as an enhanced CD, Earthlodge contains a ten minute video about Keith, his life and culture. He tells of how he came to know the flute, and how the flute has molded him.
Bear’s accomplishments as a flute player and performer include extensive performances at schools, conventions and state and national parks. During the summer of 1995, Bear made his professional acting debut in the feature film, “Dakota Sunrise.” He performed on QVC’s Home Shopping Network and sold over 2,000 copies of Echoes of the Upper Missouri in less than five minutes.
He’s also been seen on MTV’s Road Rules, Babe Winkelman’s Hunting Secrets, Ducks Unlimited’s Prairie Potholes, ND Tourism commercials and a short film piece for Prairie Public Television. Several foreign documentaries have also aired interviews with Bear.
Born and educated in North Dakota, Bear lives on the Fort Berthold Reservation. When he’s not performing, he perfects his skills in beadwork, quillwork and flute-making. He is also a certified boxing official and volunteers to help boys on the Fort Berthold Reservation learn the discipline of boxing.