Eagle Staff History
Veterans of previous generations first recognized the need for a community eagle staff. Since then, the struggle to create a veterans group and a community eagle staff has been a battle that has been long fought by many people. The story of the Pokagon Eagle Staff is beautiful one that depicts the creator’s influence in its design. Of all the people that worked on its conception and design, not one of them envisioned the magnificent spectacle that it is today.
We invited an Elder to speak with our group to give us the history as he could recall it from an earlier generation. We had Potawatomi veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War and the eras in between, who first recognized the need for a community eagle staff. These veterans participated in events and pow wows which caused them to consider the idea of creating a tribal veterans group as well. During this period of time, long before the Pokagon Band’s federal recognition, the community was not ready for these things so in spite of the best efforts by some great veterans and people, neither the veteran’s group nor the community eagle staff became a reality.
In the early 2000s, the drive to create the veteran’s group began anew. Veterans with various backgrounds began to meet to see how they could achieve this goal. During these early meetings, the idea for a community eagle staff became a fresh topic once again. Some of these veterans, not knowing the spiritual and traditional side of our heritage, unknowingly thought that creating an eagle staff were as simple as putting feathers on a staff. In an effort to get this staff ready by the inaugural Oshke Kno Kwewen Memorial Day Pow Wow in 2010, steps were taken to fast track the eagle staff. We had a contribution of feathers to create the flag part of the staff. We had an artist donate the staff and base. A family member of the artist made a beautiful basket to house the staff during its travels.
At this point in time, as good fortune would have it, we had some veteran with some exposure to traditional teachings whose objections caused the group to slow down and begin to consider all the important elements that make up a community eagle staff. Of course, the most important consideration was how to involve the community in this venture. A lesson learned from the past was that if this venture was to be a success, the community would have to support the effort. It was decided that each family would contribute a feather to the staff in honor of the veterans in their family. Before the group could even consider asking families for their feathers, we had a feather arrive from Texas. The inauguration of the staff saw thirteen family feathers representing ninety-one veterans. This outcome and community participation was beyond anticipation.
The elements of the eagle staff have important meaning as well. The feathers that make up the flag portion of the staff represent an eagle’s wing. This wing protects all of the veterans represented by the family eagle feathers. As quoted by an Elder during one of our meetings, “Eagles interceded in our lives to stop the creator from destroying the world a second time. They fly so high that they take our prayers to the creator. The creator gave that eagle a job to do; to check over our people below to make sure they are still doing the things that I have told them to do.”
The element that holds the family feathers is a medicine wheel in the colors of the four directions. The eagle staff is topped by a deer antler that holds a small white feather. This feather is for the creator. The red banner is the veterans’ color. The white trim signifies purity. The staff and base are of natural origin and not made in China like we often see on our products today.
The eagle staff was purified in a sweat by the veterans. Although the number of rocks used during that sweat cannot be accurately recalled at this time, it felt like a hundred of them were used. Many prayers were sent on behalf of the staff. The family feathers were handled by the veterans during a sunrise ceremony. This handling gave a chance for the veterans to speak on the feather’s behalf, feel the memories of veterans past, and to pray for the feather before it became an integral part of the Pokagon community eagle staff. Also during the ceremony, the names of the veterans of each family were read before the feather was tied to the staff.
Veterans can be added to a particular family’s feather. We will remove the family feather from the eagle staff and perform the sunrise ceremony service again adding the name to the list that accompanies each family feather. We will install new family feathers as well. We insist that you submit your feather for inspection prior to the sunrise ceremony or attend a feather preparation class to be offered prior to the events leading up to the Memorial Day pow wow. The feather must have a tie on it and the tie must be very secure. The staff was recently in Arizona to honor Ira Hayes where it was in a wind storm that exceeded 50 miles per hour. We do not want a feather falling off of the staff.
The staff represents memories of veterans here and gone. It signifies the spirit and pride of the people. It is a salute to the creator by the families of the tribe who are presenting their family warriors on their behalf. It is the flag of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi nation. Collectively, we have representation of all theatres of war from the Civil War to the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have a POW, KIAs, a family member buried in Epinal, France. We have women veterans, both officers and enlisted. We have veterans with the a silver star, a veteran with multiple bronze star awards, as well as single bronze star awardees, a significant number of purple hearts and multiple other awards and commendations. The honor associated with this staff is noble and powerful.
Please contact the veterans group if you are interested in putting a family feather on the eagle staff this year. We can arrange for a feather for your family if one is needed.