Receiving the Eagle Feather6 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Over the past couple of years, Indigenous communities have gifted Eagle Feathers to the Region of Waterloo for being an ally and continuing its journey of Truth and Reconciliation. Learn how partnerships are helping to create a more inclusive community and redress the legacy of residential schools in Waterloo Region.
Written by: Stu Gooden, Region of Waterloo
Being a nurse is a family affair for Rachel Radyk.
“My mom is also a nurse,” she said. “I was exposed to the joy, the satisfaction and rewards that come with overcoming some of the challenges with nursing. My mom was one of my main supporters.”
A member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, the former Region of Waterloo Public Health nurse and Aboriginal Patient Navigator for the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC) always had a passion for helping people, and has dedicated her career to improving health care for Indigenous communities.
“Currently, I work with the Indigenous health team at the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario to create nursing guidelines, especially around Indigenous health,” she said.
The 29 year-old’s list of career accomplishments runs long. She was valedictorian at Ontario Tech University while earning her nursing degree, received a 2022 Woman of the Year award from K-W Oktoberfest and is starting a Master’s degree in the fall.
But at the top of her decorated list, is receiving an Eagle Feather in May 2021 on behalf of the Region of Waterloo, SOAHAC and Grand River Hospital from Indigenous Elder Myeengun Henry, for their work in running culturally-appropriate COVID-19 vaccination clinics for Indigenous people.
“It was a really powerful moment,” Radyk said. “That Eagle Feather wasn’t just for me. It was for all the health care workers who were working hard to make a difference.”
“The Eagle Feather is one of the highest honours that an Indigenous person can bestow on someone doing something great,” said local Indigenous leader Myeengun Henry. “The Eagle is the highest flying bird, the one closest to the Creator, which brings messages back to us on earth. The Eagle is very significant in Indigenous culture.”
Radyk helped to ensure the Indigenous clinic at the Cambridge Pinebush site met the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of Indigenous people.
“It’s really important to look at the ways in which settler organizations can partner with Indigenous agencies like SOAHAC, to provide a safe space for Indigenous health and wellness services that are Indigenous-led,” said Charisse Sayer, Integrated Care Manager with SOAHAC. “Being able to have these kinds of partnerships in the community really work towards reconciliation and work towards building ally partnerships.”
“Rachel, having the skills that she has and determination to provide better health, I thought this Eagle Feather would help her with her vision,” said Henry.
Around the same time staff helped to run the Indigenous clinic at Cambridge Pinebush, another cohort supported Anishnabeg Outreach.
Anishnabeg Outreach is an award-winning non-profit organization that provides culturally appropriate services to Indigenous people. In April 2021, the organization gifted an Eagle Feather to the Region for its partnership in delivering Indigenous-led clinics.
“I think this was the first time Indigenous people were included at the beginning of the process as opposed to always being an afterthought,” said Stephen Jackson, CEO of Anishnabeg Outreach. “Indigenous people who were skeptical or afraid of the system, were willing to come to our space because it was so appealing.”
Region of Waterloo Public Health nurse Cotlyn Snider led the Regional support for the clinics, which saw up to 200 people a day.
Working in health care for 18 years, she said receiving the Eagle Feather on behalf of the Region was the most profound moment of her career.
“It just took my breath away,” Snider said. “It was just an amazing learning opportunity for me and all the staff. We can share that going forward; the positive experience and the learning we had. It was incredible.”
The culturally appropriate clinics were held at Anishnabeg Outreach, Region of Waterloo headquarters and healing lodges. Smudging ceremonies were performed, Indigenous music was played and Indigenous Elders were on hand to support people receiving their vaccine.
“Our partnership is often about working together to achieve outcomes that wouldn’t normally have been achieved otherwise,” added Jackson. “It needs to be led by Indigenous people, otherwise if it’s not, you end up with residential school type outcomes.”
The most recent Eagle Feather was an exchange that happened during the 2022 State of the Region event.
Clarence Cachagee, member of Chapleau Cree First Nation and founder of Crow Shield Lodge, a place for reconciliation and land based teachings and healing, gave the Region an Eagle Feather in exchange for a Hawk Feather he offered almost two years ago.
“The Hawk is right underneath the Eagle,” explained Cachagee. “Because we’re going down a new direction in regards to allyship and reconciliation, I thought it was fitting that I ask for that Hawk Feather back and gift that white tail feather of an Eagle, which is all about direction. The Eagle’s values are strength and vision.”
Waterloo Region is located on the traditional territories of the Neutral (Attawandaron), Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. With the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report as its guide, the Region is working with community partners to continue its journey of Truth and Reconciliation.
“On behalf of the Region of Waterloo, I’m incredibly honoured for the Eagle Feathers local Indigenous communities have bestowed upon us over the past couple of years. But our journey is just getting started,” said Bruce Lauckner, Chief Administrative Officer of the Region of Waterloo. “We want to take meaningful steps to redress the legacy of residential schools and engage in and promote Truth and Reconciliation in Waterloo Region. The Eagle Feather gives us the strength, direction and vision we need to continue along this journey. We are proud to be an ally.”
“Allyship means listening, allyship means learning, allyship means investing. What allyship means is action,” said Cachagee. “I think the time is right, and I think the time is ripe to be doing this. The Region of Waterloo is doing some amazing things with walking and listening to the Indigenous people of our region.”
Learn more about:
Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre