There has always been an aura of mystique surrounding the Eagle for Aboriginal peoples. The Iyiniw or Nehiyaw has always deemed to honor this spirit from the animal world. It soared so high in the heavens that Iyiniw or Nehiyaw held it in high esteem since it was so much closer to the Creator. The Eagle became a power of vision, strength and courage. There are many special meanings and special uses for the Eagle.
It is common knowledge that Iyiniw or Nehiyaw depended on animals for knowledge of the world around them, the environment, of life and of themselves. Animals had a sense for changes in the world, the changing of seasons and of things to come. Iyiniw or Nehiyaw does not possess the animal sense. The Eagle was the leader in all those things and it represented foresight and courage. The relationship to the earth and nature has always been intimate and intensely personal for the Aboriginal peoples and because of the special relationship, they are closely related to sacred beliefs. The Creator had given each group of people tools for survival. We must trust ourselves to ensure that our needs are met.
The Cycle of Life is holistic. The Creator is the centre of all life. The life of a person follows a pattern of the seasons or pattern of a day, from childhood, to youth, adulthood, and old age. The completeness of a circle indicates no beginning and no end but eternity. The path of life calls for balance and harmony but there are no landmarks to guide from birth to death. The Iyiniw or Nehiyaw can only give an ideal interpretation as to how that could be done. It is only once that the path of life is trod upon and each person must walk in a sacred manner.
The ways of an Aboriginal are the ways given from the Creator. It is in these ways that a balance or equilibrium in an ever changing world can be achieved. The gift of life is the greatest gift and must be respected. In the Creator, everyone is good, valuable and beautiful. The culture, history, customs, ceremonies and beliefs belong to the Aboriginal to take along that walk. Only then can one attain a peaceful balance in mind and body as each is also the guardian of their own spirit. Their spirit will be reflected by thoughts, speech, emotion and touch.
A gift of an Eagle Feather is a great honor. It is a mark of distinction, one that could indicate that a rite of passage has been earned. The Eagle
Feather represents the norms, responsibilities and behaviors that are all a part of the conditioning, learning and commitment to a spirit. It is in this way that life is honored and becomes whole. The law of nature calls for one order of life to depend on another.
The quill of an Eagle Feather represents stability, strength and foundation. In the Cycle of Life or wheel of life, it represents the spirituality of the people. This is where the beginning and ending meet. The quill represents the beginning and ending in the spiritual journey of life. Birth and death are represented here as rites of passage from and to the spiritual world. Conception, the nine month journey and childbirth are sacred and begin here. Traditionally, there were ceremonies or celebrations for the beginning of life.
The plume of an Eagle Feather or fluff is white, billowy and soft. It represents the purity, lightness and gentleness of a child full of the spirit and so new to the cycle of life. The plume is distinctive and usually a token of honor.
The plume in the Cycle of Life is the beginning of the formative years, childhood. It is the age of innocence, pride and dreams - a time for bonding and attachment to relationships, values, attitudes, behaviors, personalities, character and to the environment. It is a time for security and integration.
The vane of an Eagle Feather represents flexibility and adaptability with gentleness and firmness. The vane has a unique design as each feather is unique. Each individual is also unique. This is the expanded part of the feather just as youth are now expanding into the world and each is responsible for themselves.
In the Cycle of Life, the vane is the continuation of the formative years. The children have achieved their rights of passage, a boy becomes a hunter or warrior and a girl has reached womanhood. During this phase, there is learning and guidance. The mind, the mouth, heart and hand (avenues for the spirit) are being nurtured. Example and reinforcement are given in the proper direction to strengthen their spiritual well being and identity. It is a time of enrichment, logic and proof.
The entire feather is straight, strong, firm and gentle. The top portion represents the peak of life. The conduct of adulthood is to bring out the best in beauty and goodness. Men have achieved bravery, skill or character and have been renamed accordingly. Women have achieved a level of knowledge basic to the survival of the people. Self-discipline, survival skills, loyalty, solidarity, and respect within family are above all individual interests. The foundation laid for them is intact. Interdependence, empathy, insight and foresight enables them to be keepers and protectors of the culture. It is at this phase that marriage and child-bearing are foremost.
The opposite vane continues to represent flexibility and adaptability with gentleness and firmness. In the Cycle of Life, a level of seniority is established. Conduct of parenthood has been proven and movement into grand parenthood is inevitable. Relationships, community and nationhood are important. Responsibility for the welfare of others, young and old is the purpose of guidance. To encourage and support others is to give back what was given and to give more of one's self.
As in the opposite, the plume of the Eagle Feather represents purity, lightness and gentleness. Purity in mind, body and spirit is achieved in old age. Elders become frail and weak like children. It is a very honorable age that speaks no arrogance or greed but the fulfillment of life to the best of one's ability. They become the keepers of the wisdom with peaceful energy, authority and purpose. Elders are as highly esteemed as the Eagle.
Once again the quill represents the beginning and ending in the spiritual journey of life. Death is at the end of the Cycle of Life and is also a rite of passage into the spiritual world. The spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of loved ones into eternity. One has known his natural space, only once does he pass this way, he has made his journey. To honor death is to honor life as both are important in the spirit world.
The Aboriginal peoples have been given many gifts from the Creator. The gift of the Eagle spirit is one such treasure. Now is the time to revitalize our knowledge and understanding of these gifts so that the Aboriginal cultural beliefs, values and customs are not lost forever.
Re-printed from Alberta Native News, December 2001