ARCHIVED - The Sacred Tradition of the Eagle Staff

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Article / June 17, 2015 / Project number: 15-0108

Ottawa, Ontario — The Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Aboriginal Eagle Staff was reinvigorated and ceremoniously recognized by Lieutenant-General Marquis Hainse, Commander Canadian Army and DND/CAF Champion for Aboriginal Peoples. The ceremony took place during the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group’s (DAAG) 20th anniversary celebration event at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Confederation Park in Ottawa on June 17th, 2015. The Staff travelled from its current location in Halifax for the occasion.

It is a tremendous honour to receive the Eagle Staff. This sacred symbol is a treasured tradition that I promise to uphold and carry with great humility and respect,” said LGen Hainse.

The tradition of the Eagle Staff has been passed down from generation to generation. In Aboriginal cultures, the Eagle Staff represents various meanings, spiritual entities, nations, clans, languages, medicines and healing. It is believed that eagles communicate directly with the Creator, making eagles themselves, their feathers and their images highly revered by First Peoples. From a non-Aboriginal perspective, the Staff can be compared to a national flag: it represents people, states, governments, regiments and battle honours. Thus, it is an honoured and sacred symbol.

Two former CAF members were instrumental in creating the DND/CAF Eagle Staff in 2002 and in working to facilitate its presence as a traveling emblem of unity among all Aboriginal Peoples in the defence community.

The DND/CAF Eagle Staff was a vision that was shared by myself and Petty Officer Second Class (retired) Chris Innes,” said Chief Petty Officer, Second Class (retired) Debbie Eisan. “This vision represented two important factors. The first is to remind us to never forget the sacrifices and courage of Aboriginal men and women who volunteered and fought for Turtle Island during time of war. This Eagle Staff will always ensure that their legacy will not be forgotten. Secondly, it came at a time when Aboriginal members of the CAF and DND needed to feel empowered and to maintain a sense of pride and honor of our native ancestry.” [Note: Turtle Island is a symbolic term for North America]

Master Seaman Arnold Stewart, who is from Nisga’a Nation on the west coast, is the designated Keeper of the DND/CAF Eagle Staff and holds the responsibility for its care. “Before carrying an Eagle Staff, one must receive teachings and guidance by a group of designated veterans and warriors,” said MS Stewart. “Staff carriers must possess a strong and positive mind because it is believed that the spirits of the Staff listen and connect with the carrier.

An Eagle Staff is made entirely of nature's gifts, such as tree, animal and bird materials. They are generally four to seven feet long with eagle feathers attached. Each Eagle Staff is unique and specifically designed for different groups and purposes. The DND/CAF Eagle Staff was fashioned from ash wood and put together in Halifax. Key features of the Staff include:

  • An eagle carving, made by the Mi’Kmaw People of Newfoundland, which graces the top of the staff, with the bird flying towards the Creator to offer the prayers of all those assembled nearby;
  • 13 eagle feathers, representing each calendar moon and First Peoples of every province and territory;
  • The Canadian Flag with an eagle feather, followed by each provincial and territorial flag representing those who share this land with us;
  • A Métis sash, an ash bow and a narwhal tusk representing the concept of “Many Peoples, One Nation”; and
  • A depiction of a blackened hand, that represents the legacy, guidance and strength of Aboriginal Veterans and which is meant to honour all those who came before us.

A particularly distinct feature of this Staff includes a ‘Heart of Ethics’, meaning that when the ash tree was shaped and sanded, it unveiled the layering of the three symbolic hearts in one, which always reminds us of our seven grandfather teachings of love, respect, honesty, wisdom, truth, humility and courage,” said Debbie Eisan.

These are values that we all aspire to exemplify in our lives and within our communities, including our military family,” she concludes.

By Natalie Flynn with files from Captain Caroline Massicotte, Army Public Affairs

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