(Marshall Dreaver, left, Marc-Andre Blanchard and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. Photo: AFN)
APTN National News
Some First Nation Elders want to repatriate an Eagle Staff gifted by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde to a Canadian diplomat in honour of the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Bellegarde gave the Eagle Staff to Marc-Andre Blanchard, who is Canada’s permanent representative at the United Nations, during a visit last week to New York City.
Elder Elmer Courchene, who is the chair of the AFN Elder’s Council, said the Eagle Staff gift caused concern among several elders on the council who want a meeting with the national chief to clarify the issue.
“I know there are a lot of people that are not happy with what took place,” said Courchene, in an interview Thursday. “I am not happy with it, let’s put it that way.”
Courchene said a meeting is planned in Ottawa next week with the AFN executive and the Elder’s council to discuss the issue.
“The Eagle Staff is our identity, it means everything to us. It has to be shown that respect and it has to be taken care of properly,” said Courchene.
“I don’t know if all of the people have been informed with what took place and that is some of the things that have to be cleared up.”
(Elmer Courchene is chair of the AFN’s Elder’s council)
The Eagle Staff, which originated with the Cree, was used as standard before flags appeared on the continent.
Under proper protocol, it has to be cared for and stored in a certain way. It can’t be left to gather dust or used simply as a decoration.
“The Eagle Staff has always been representative as our first flag before state flags were ever in existence, since time immemorial,” said Assembly of First Nations Manitoba regional Chief Kevin Hart. “It is very sacred. The highest honour you can get is to be given an eagle feather, let alone an Eagle Staff being presented.”
Hart said he heard concerns over the Eagle Staff gift from many Elders during the National Gathering of Elders in Edmonton last week.
He said some Elders want to get the staff back.
“There were obvious concerns regarding the protocol with the national chief’s office and I have heard since that some Elders want to go retrieve that Eagle Staff and repatriate it,” said Hart.
Hart said he wrote Bellegarde an email recently on the issue.
“I expressed my concern with what I heard,” said Hart. “Everyone was surprised with the Eagle Staff and how it was presented…. You hear what is happening in Native country as well, obviously there is a concern with this Eagle Staff being presented.”
Bellegarde is aware of the Eagle Staff concerns and AFN CEO Paulette Tremblay sent an email to the AFN executive on Sept. 14, the day after the gifting, explaining proper protocols were followed in the handing over of the staff.
Tremblay’s email said the Eagle Staff was commissioned in April by the diplomat Blanchard who made the request using tobacco, a prayer cloth and sweet grass to Haida Nation master carver James Maurice Hart. Eagle Staff maker John Fisher, from George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, was also involved in the process.
The carving process followed the advice and guidance of British Columbia Grand Chief Ed John, said the email.
The Eagle Staff was gifted to Blanchard during a ceremony overseen by Marshall Dreaver, a ceremonial leader from Big River First Nation in Saskatchewan, which included smudging and a prayer song.
“While meeting with ambassador Blanchard the national chief educated him as to the spirituality of the Eagle Staff, and the importance to honour it with appropriate smudging and an annual feast and ceremony, which ambassador Blanchard has committed to honouring,” said Tremblay’s email.
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