The presentation of a sacred Eagle Staff, or migizii mitik, to Brandon University will help the university include a new Indigenous element in important ceremonial occasions and celebrations.
William Mousseau, an Anishanaabek artisan from Ebb and Flow First Nation, created the Eagle Staff out of natural elements with spiritual significance and symbolic value to the university as well as to Indigenous communities in the region.
“Everything is made by hand, even the letters,” said Mousseau, a former student in BU’s IshKaabatens Waasa Gaa Inaabateg Department of Visual Art. “It took a lot of long, hard, and careful work, and in the end so much that just fell into place.”
Several of Mousseau’s former instructors from the department were on hand for the ceremony and feast earlier this spring when the Eagle Staff was presented.
Before the official presentation, earlier this spring, Elder and Knowledge-Keeper Barb Blind smudged all present, as well as the staff itself. Then Mousseau gave a brief overview of the elements of the staff and presented it to BU President David Docherty.
The staff is about five feet tall, with a curve at the top. While to some it may look like a shepherd’s crook, the design is a traditional Indigenous one, Mousseau said.
The staff itself is made from a young tamarack tree chosen by Mousseau. Tamarack was traditionally used in many plains tipis and grows naturally straight; this staff has rare twisted fiber growth, which adds unique character. Creating a curve in the staff without splintering or snapping the wood took a careful and lengthy process as he guided the wood into place.
Wrapped around the wood is deer leather near the bottom, and river otter fur along most of the length of the staff. The luxurious fur all came from a single pelt, which Mousseau said was the finest he had ever seen.
In the centre of the curve is a version of the traditional medicine wheel, painted on both sides of a two=sided leather shield. While Mousseau said his traditions would normally call for slightly different colours, he opted for a medicine wheel style that would be inclusive of other Indigenous traditions in the wider region.
Five bald eagle feathers are strung from the top of the staff, one for each faculty at Brandon University. The feathers are white, meaning they are from more mature eagles, and they symbolize knowledge and community. Tucked behind the feathers is a medicine bag with tobacco, sage, and cedar and sweet grass inside.
From the side of the staff, a large banner projects out, featuring the Brandon University logo, name, and graphic elements like the chevron on both sides. The logo, a version of the official BU crest, was beaded with incredible attention to detail by Christine Tokohopie, of the BU “beading babes” who leads regular workshops at the BU Indigenous Peoples’ Centre.
Mousseau himself cut out the individual letters one-by-one by hand, and created the chevron from ribbon. Ribbons in the BU colours of blue and gold, as well as white, are also used at the corners of the banner.
Finally, from the side of the banner, 10 bundles of horsehair are attached, representing the history of plains horsemen.
Other elements, like eagle plumes and small, black-tipped feathers, both located on the center shield, were added decoratively, Mousseau said.
After the official presentation to the university, songs were sung to welcome the staff, including a horse giveaway song, which is a song of celebration, sometimes sung at weddings, to symbolize coming together. Everyone present was also invited to step forward and individually greet and welcome the staff.
Mousseau will be on campus later this month for an upcoming session of the BU Teachings House where he will be sharing information about the Eagle Staff’s symbolism and significance in person. The Eagle Staff Teachings House is scheduled for Monday, May 29 from 1:30 – 3 p.m.
The Eagle Staff will be given a place of honour during important BU ceremonies like Convocation. At this year’s Convocation, it will be carried in earliest in the procession, carried by the BU Chancellor, and the Eagle Staff will serve to officially open the proceedings.
- Brandon University
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