Eagle released to honour Elder was healing for a nation, says young photographer

Two photos of an eagle, before release in the arms of a chief in buckskin and a headdress and at right the eagle in the air flying through the powwow arbour.

By Odette Auger, Windspeaker.com

A rehabilitated eagle was released back into the wild during the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation powwow grand entry July 5.

The eagle had suffered an injury and had been treated at the Strathcona Raptor Shelter in Alberta. The release was dedicated to the late community Elder Francis Alexis.

Culturally, a year of grieving passes before a memorial is held, and loved ones are not spoken of, Chief Tony Alexis told Windspeaker. In this case, the community was feeling the loss in every aspect as he was “part of the fabric of our entire community.”

Chief Alexis said “He’s the voice of our powwow from the beginning. The chief asked the family for permission to give a tribute and those conversations were happening when the opportunity of this eagle release came to them.

“Eagle is a symbol of leadership, a symbol of strength,” said Chief Alexis. “Eagle flies into the heavens and comes back to the earth. The only one that can do that. So it is said. That’s part of our teaching. We have songs of that.”

At Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, the grand entry is usually dedicated to chiefs, “and Uncle Francis was the chief of our community. And once a chief, always a chief, is a saying that we have. That they'll always be treated as such.”

Chief Alexis held the eagle against his chest, and told Windspeaker, “I could feel my hands burning with his strength.”

“I could just feel his strength in my hands, how strong he was, just sitting there. When you look at him, he's so peaceful, calm looking. He's not peaceful. I know that because I can feel his heart. I could feel his heartbeat.”

Eagle is a messenger for Creator. Teachings tell of the eagle taking prayers into the heavens and bringing the stories of the heavens back to the people.

“So I was talking like that to the eagle and saying a prayer that there's a lot of our people who are struggling with grief. We miss our relatives. Take this message back to them, that he would do that for us.”

“And I talked to Uncle Francis that we miss him. We miss him in this powwow. We honour and tribute to you to recognize you and the work that you've done in our community,” said Chief Alexis.

The eagle calmed down as the song for chiefs was sung, and when the fourth downbeat of the drum came, the eagle was released.

“In the same way as this Eagle flies, our prayers and grief will go in that way. They'll bring some good medicine back for us. Not only me, not only the Uncle Francis family or my community. It's a lot of communities have been struggling,” Alexis said.

“I had that one graceful moment with talking to the Creator and talking to that eagle and talking to our relatives, talking to Uncle Francis.”

Jaedus Michel-Burnstick Alexis
Jaedus Michel-Burnstick Alexis

A photo has been gaining attention on social media of the eagle spreading his wings for flight. The photo was taken by 13-year-old Jaedus Michel-Burnstick Alexis, who knew the Elder as an uncle to his family.

“It felt good. It felt like something released the nation,” said Jaedus of watching the eagle release. “It's an example of healing for everyone in the nation.”

“I think [Uncle Francis Alexis] was there in spirit and everyone was feeling that,” said Jaedus.

“It’s a really powerful bird and it gives a lot of healing and comfort.”

Jaedus is a keen photographer.

“When things are happening, I like to take a lot of photos, one after another, and hope for the perfect one,” he said.

He became interested in photography in 2018 when he started taking photos on a tablet, and has since upgraded to a cell phone. At the powwow he was using his mom’s camera, taking photos with his dad Frazer Alexis, who is a photographer mentored by Windspeaker publisher Bert Crowfoot.

Lee Paul photo
The moment of the eagle release. Photograph by Lee Paul, as shared on Facebook.

While he was speaking with Windspeaker, another eagle swooped down through Jaedus’ yard. He and his mother laugh and explained there are two eagles that visit the yard, returning to the tallest tree every spring.

Jaedus said he chose to share his photo of the eagle release because “it felt powerful and shows the connection we have with Ina Makoce (Mother Nature).”

Top Photo: At left is Chief Tony Alexis holding the eagle that was released at Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation on July 5. Photo by Bert Crowfoot. At right is the photo take by 13-year-old Jaedus Michel-Burnstick Alexis after the release.