Annual Eagle Staff Gathering
The Seventh Annual Eagle Staff Gathering will be held on the weekend of Oct. 11 and 12, hosted by Pokagon Potawatomi Nation, in Dowagiac Mich. Co-host for the gathering is the Sault College Native Education Department.Doris Boissoneau O.ONT., known for teaching Anishinaabemowin, meaning traditional way of life, provides the guidance for this event. Doris had a vision of these staff gatherings and explained she had a reoccurring dream for a few years before consulting with an elder who told her spirits were telling her to do something. Doris followed her vision to help bring strength to warriors, and all Anishinaabek nations both in Canada and the U.S.
The eagle staff gatherings are in their seventh year and have taken place in Baaweting (Sault Ste. Marie) on both Canadian and U.S. sides and several other locations. Traditional we have no borders, and that is a message Doris emphasizes for this gathering. Veterans, warriors and their families from many Anishinaabek communities in the US and Canada are expected to attend.
Eagle staff gatherings can be a powerful experience and have brought tears and healing to some who have attended. From a non-native perspective, some may consider eagle staffs to be similar to the way flags represent a group of people, state, governments and military branches. However the meaning and significance behind the staff and all of the teachings go a lot further than what can be explained here. The following are teachings I have learned from various teachers, I don’t claim to know everything. I learn more about the eagle staffs at each gathering from each eagle staff carrier.
Eagle staff carriers provide teachings about their staffs and the gatherings honor our past, present and our future as Anishinaabek. The staffs represent a celebration of our strength in maintaining our language and culture. As the staffs and people gather, “we stand for unity.” The gathering of the staffs also allows the eagle spirits, staff carriers and those in attendance to rejuvenate and share knowledge. It is believed eagle spirits communicate with one another.
A majority of eagle staffs usually represent a specific nation in some manner and are carried by veterans. Like our dynamic culture, the definition of who a veteran has changed. Woman who have fought in wars are now starting to carry eagle staffs in some areas. A warrior can be someone who not only lays their life on the line for their people, but someone who sacrifices their life fighting to preserve the culture of their people in an honorable way. In each instance they are sacrificing their lives for our people. Veterans and warriors are chosen to carry the eagle staff for their truthfulness, honesty, bravery, humility, wisdom, integrity and respect for our traditions. Some eagle staff carriers have visions to carry a staff; some are given a staff to carry by a relative. Others are chosen by a group of veterans and elders within a nation who are knowledgeable about eagle staffs. Those seeking to carry a tribal staff should consult with this group before carrying the staff for teachings and guidance; the eagle staff gathering is the perfect place to come and learn more.
The physical aspects of the eagle staffs include a long, red, felt-like rectangular cloth attached typically to a cedar or white pine pole four to seven feet in length (other wood is used depending on location). Some are made from trees struck by lightning. Often they will contain 13 eagle feathers, one representing each calendar moon. A few have eagle heads or deer antlers at the top of the staff. Others are adorned with medals and ribbons. No two staffs are the same and each carries different teachings and colors. There are many types of eagle staffs: veteran’s staffs, community staffs, personal staffs, clan staffs, healing staffs and language staffs. Someone makes eagle staffs when they have a vision or dream.
Spiritual aspects of eagle staffs include the migizi miigwan, eagle feathers, which contain the spirits of eagles. Eagles can communicate with the Creator. There is a teaching that the eagle feather was given to us to help us pray to the creator. People make tobacco offerings to eagle staffs to help answer their prayers. Staff carriers have to think positive and be strong, the spirits of the staffs listen. One must always carry these living spirits with honor and respect.
When carrying an eagle staff, any vision or instinct an eagle staff carrier may have should be followed. This means a person must be in a good frame of mind. No mind altering substances should be in an eagle staff carrier’s body in order to have true thoughts. Woman on their moon should not touch the staff or the eagle staff carrier as their body is cleansing. An eagle staff carrier should not be political when carrying the staff. An eagle staff carrier at a tribal council meeting stomped his eagle staff several times when he disagreed with something that was being said and later said the creator made him do it. Was it the creator or his own personal opinion? Carriers must maintain a neutral position when carrying the staff as they carry the staff for their people and our people have different opinions. They are not an adornment, decoration or something you wear.
Caring for staffs in the physical sense involves combing, cleaning, adding new feathers and transporting staffs safely to locations where they are needed. Some people press their feathers to repair damages. Other use sprays or herbs to prevent bugs from making tiny holes in the feathers, some carriers wash their feathers. Caring for the staffs in a spiritual sense involves smudging, praying, fasting with the staff, feasting (feeding) the staff.
Eagle feathers are found or may be given to the eagle staff carrier. Eagle staff carriers are responsible for praying for their staff and offerings. They are also taught not to leave their staff unattended. If they must go somewhere they need to give tobacco to a veteran to watch over their staff. The time of day the eagle staffs should be out is only when the eagle comes (daytime not night).
Our drums and eagle staffs bring us back to where our identity as Anishinaabek begins. When we light our pipes we are brought back to where we began. When we dance we are going back to when creation began. The eagle staff gathering is a celebration. We are honoring who we are as people, we go back to connect with our culture and bring this new strength back to our communities.
About the author: Nathan Wright is of the crane clan and Baaweting Anishinaabek (member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians). He carries the Baaweting Anishinaabek eagle staff and the Anishinabemowin Teg language eagle staff. He attends the Eagle Staff Gathering every year and is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. For more of Nathan Wright’s traditional teachings please visit his website http://www.wright.net