Sacred eagle feathers celebrated for tribal significance

Brooke Mayle/Staff Photographer Helping Healer for Behavioral Health Beatrice Johnson, a member of the Eagle Clan, poses with her Sun Dance Feather used for health, healing and ceremonial purposes Thursday afternoon during the Eagle Feather Cleansing ceremony at the Ziibiwing Center, 6650 E. Broadway. â??It helps to purify thoughts and release negative energy,â? Johnson said. â??I used it last night at a funeral I attended to help the the family with their loss.â?

Amid a room that smelled strongly of a cedar forest, Beatrice Jackson gave a point-blank explanation about why the bald eagle is sacred to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

“The feathers are sacred because the bald eagle flies closest to the creator and carries our prayers,” Jackson said.

Some of the tribe's feathers were on display Thursday at the Ziibiwing Center for the 10th annual Eagle Honoring event, giving the public a chance to see a sacred aspect of Saginaw Chippewa culture.

Jackson is a member of the Eagle Clan, a special designation in which only they and combat veterans are allowed to touch bald eagle feathers.

“A lot of these feathers have a lot of stories,” Jackson said.

Among some of the feathers with stories was Chief Pontiac’s headdress on display among nine others.

“It’s a privilege to be here and to touch these feathers,” Jackson said.

On Wednesday, the feathers were cleaned with pure cedar oil. The oil protects the feather’s structure and also protects the feathers from insects, because the cedar is poisonous to them.

Meghan Schemanske, Westland senior and volunteer at the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Behavioral Health Clinic, came with Jackson, who also works there. It was her first time at the event.

“I find it all very, very interesting,” Schemanske said about the tribal culture. “Everything they do has a reason behind it, and it’s all meaningful.”

Schemanske said she has been learning the culture steadily since she began volunteering at the clinic in May 2011. Some of the teachings, she said, are close to her.

“A lot of the teachings relate to my own way of life,” Schemanske said. “It’s just a different way of thinking about your daily experiences.”

The Ziibiwing Center has a collection of more than 600 eagle feathers, which were all donated.

An eagle feather feast today from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Ziibiwing Center,  6650 E. Broadway Road, will conclude a three-day eagle feather honoring. On Wednesday, there was an eagle feather cleaning event.

Tribal elders Phyllis Kequom and Joan Webkamigad permitted the feathers to be on display for the public four days out of the year.

“I always notice if I see an eagle anywhere, like no matter where I’m at,” Schemanske said.


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