I spent some time in the deep forest this past week. It felt great to breathe in the fresh air and to stir the coals of a fire while the weather turned cool and wet. One morning, a young eagle (or mikisew in Cree) glided overhead and began to screech and cry as I stood amongst the tall pine. No doubt he was not happy at my incursion into his domain. He kept circling and crying overhead as I went about my work around the camp.
I felt like I was back out on the shore of James Bay where I have seen many eagles over the years. It is quite rare to see this majestic bird as the eagle usually stays away from people and normally does not fly close unless it is for some important reasons such as protecting a nest or a recent kill.
The experience was a little spooky as there was no sound except that of the wind in the pine and, of course, the screaming eagle. I kept quiet and stayed in place while I tended to my fire and watched the swirling mist dance on the water of a northern lake. After about an hour, the eagle began to realize I meant no harm to him, his livelihood or his family but he continued to keep an eye on me. In some way I could detect he had accepted me in his space and I felt good that I was now allowed into his world.
I have not heard many stories about the mikisew up north. The mikisew is a rare bird that does not visit our homeland often. Whenever it is mentioned, it is often with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm. To many people, the sighting of an eagle, especially in full view and in close proximity, is a sign of good fortune. Elders have explained to me that an eagle only shows itself to help others and give a positive energy.
I can say that this explanation works from my own experience. I remember taking a long walk away from my home community of Attawapiskat one summer. I was 16 and life was an endless series of highs and lows and I was out on my own on the land to be away from the stress, chaos and confusion of living in a small, isolated community. I headed towards the bay, following the river shoreline and wandered amongst the tall grass, bull rushes and summer greenery. I was troubled with all sorts of thoughts and the fresh green of the forest helped in clearing my mind of negative energy.
As I stumbled through the grass, a loud crack came from the woods, then a resounding series of swooping wings sounded overhead. Two fully grown adult eagles flew out of the dense woods. I could feel the power of their limbs pushing the air over their wings. They crossed the river over me, circled and then steadily rose higher and higher. In a matter of seconds, they were mere specks in the sky and then they disappeared. As I watched them fly away, I forgot whatever it was that was bothering me. Any thoughts I had left me at that point and I was filled with the excitement of the sight I had just witnessed.
The eagle holds a prominent and important position in Native traditional spirituality. The mikisew is revered in every First Nation culture as it is the strongest of all birds and a symbol of powerful connection. Since it is also recognized as a high-flying bird that has a keen sense of sight, the eagle is also identified as a messenger of the great spirit or kitchi manitou. This is why eagle feathers are so important to many traditional and spiritual people. The feather is a symbolic object that links a person to this powerful bird and its spiritual connection.
Many people have asked me where individuals get eagle feathers (or meegwan in Cree). Eagles are not hunted on purpose as they are considered sacred to traditional people. Feathers are collected from eagles that have died by accident or from natural causes. The fact that this is the only way that feathers can be collected is another reason why they are considered so important. They are rare. Eagle feathers are also community or family heirlooms that are handed down from person to person.
If you are ever lucky enough to see an eagle in the wild take your time to watch this powerful bird as it peers at you from a tall perch or soars high above. His presence will chase all your worries away.