2010-04-29 / Front Page

Eagle Soars Free at Epoufette

Rehabilitated Bird Inspires Ceremony
By Ted Booker

The rehabilitated eagle, a symbol of Native American faith, flies free, released by Tony Grondin of St. Ignace during a ceremony that drew more than 140 people to Epoufette Sunday, April 25. (Photograph by Dennis Goodwin) The rehabilitated eagle, a symbol of Native American faith, flies free, released by Tony Grondin of St. Ignace during a ceremony that drew more than 140 people to Epoufette Sunday, April 25. (Photograph by Dennis Goodwin) The chance to watch a bald eagle get released into the wild doesn’t come around often.

That opportunity inspired more than 140 people to assemble on the shore of Epoufette Bay for a Native American ceremony at Angels Among Us Youth Camp Sunday, April 25, where they witnessed a rehabilitated bald eagle soar back into its natural habitat.

The eagle, which was found on the Hiawatha Trail in Epoufette with a fractured wing in March, was rehabilitated by the U.P. Raptor Rehab Center of Gladstone, a nonfor profit started in 2006 by Randy and Gayle Bruntjens.

Named Ocqueoc after a nearby river, the eagle had already been on the ground for about three weeks when it was found, and was beginning to heal, said Ms. Bruntjens, but it was severely malnourished.

After rebuilding its strength in the care of U.P. Raptor Rehab of Gladstone, this eagle is ready to be released into its natural habitat. (Photograph by Dennis Goodwin) After rebuilding its strength in the care of U.P. Raptor Rehab of Gladstone, this eagle is ready to be released into its natural habitat. (Photograph by Dennis Goodwin) “This last month we were really just getting the weight back on and the strength back up,” she said, adding that the rehab center releases an average of six eagles a year.

The center has partnered with the Native American community since last year to host ritual ceremonies accompanying the eagle releases. Duane Kinnart of Gladstone, who helped preside over Sunday’s ceremony, explained that the eagle is the centerpiece of the native faith.

“The eagles take our thoughts and prayers up to the creator – they fly the highest,” he said. “If you watch, sometimes you’ll just see a speck because they go so high up. They’ll come to a point where they stop flying and they can walk and bring the creator a message. That’s why it’s special to us.”

Above: Duane Kinnart of Gladstone (right) stands alongside Cameron Willemsen, 10, who participated in Sunday's tribal festivities, including drumming and dancing, in Epoufette. Above: Duane Kinnart of Gladstone (right) stands alongside Cameron Willemsen, 10, who participated in Sunday's tribal festivities, including drumming and dancing, in Epoufette. During the ceremony, the crowd convened around a sacred fire, and Tony Grondin, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians from St. Ignace, explained the meaning of the rituals, allowing individuals the option to participate.

A bowl of tobacco seeds, sometimes smoked by Native Americans using pipes to summon the breath of life, was passed around for everyone to take a pinch and toss into the wind. The tradition is called “one life through the pipe,” Mr. Grondin said.

“We take all of the medicine in there and send it up to the creator,” he said.

At right: Gayle Bruntjens of the Gladstone-based U.P. Raptor Rehab Center holds the rehabilitated bald eagle that was released back into the wild Sunday, April 25, on the shore of Lake Michigan in Epoufette. At right: Gayle Bruntjens of the Gladstone-based U.P. Raptor Rehab Center holds the rehabilitated bald eagle that was released back into the wild Sunday, April 25, on the shore of Lake Michigan in Epoufette. In the most solemn part of the ceremony, special whistles crafted from the bones of eagle wings were blown to conjure eagle spirits.

“We try to always use the left bone, because that’s the closest to the heart,” Mr. Grondin explained.

All was quiet except the noise of the whistles as the Native American presenters faced the north, south, east, and west, respectively, to direct the whistling, while the crowd turned with them in unison. At last year’s eagle release, a flock of eagles swooped down and circled the ceremony after the whistles were blown, Mr. Grondin informed the crowd.

“When we see them flying around, we know that they’re here to take that one back into the community,” he said.

Most important, the Native Americans believe the spirit of the eagle is always with them, informing their decisions and bringing them in harmony with the earth.

“It's just like life. We know that when we pass on, there's always an essence of us left behind, so we're never completely gone. So when we call on the eagle, the spirit of the bird is always with us to help,” Mr. Kinnart said.

Kellie Nightlinger, director of the youth camp, said she was thrilled to have the opportunity to host the ceremony. Many bald eagles live in the area, she said, and often as many as five can be spotted flying around the ridge line on any given day.

“I know how important the bald eagle is in the Native American culture,” she said, “so I felt like it was good to bridge that gap and invite them to a ceremony such as this. It’s important to teach [people] about the culture because probably over 50 percent of the population in this area is Native American.”

Regardless of culture, however, everyone who watched the eagle take flight Sunday went home feeling more connected to the earth.

“It’s not just about Native American people, it’s about all people,” said Dave “Buffalo” Cobb. “It's more of a way of life than anything else, and part of that way of life is honoring everything, all of the animals, trees, and land.”

Return to top


Click here for digital edition
2010-04-29 digital edition