By Kelly Anne Smith
NORTH BAY – The author calls it a simple read offering his interpretations of Anishinaabe Culture. After years of working with Indigenous Youth, George Couchie’s book Raised on an Eagle Feather is a wise guide to life.
Couchie wanted a reference manual when he worked with Youth to uplift their cultural spirits. Not finding what he was looking for, he decided to take it upon himself to create one.
Just prior to the Anishinabek News interview, Couchie met with North Bay Mayor Al McDonald about engaging North Bay citizens with Indigenous culture. Couchie is concerned that people will forget about the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“It is going to go by if people don’t start doing something,” stated Couchie. “As Aboriginal people, we need to get out there and start to do something so it isn’t forgotten.”
Couchie is planning on offering three public lectures on culture, history, and Residential Schools. The lectures to be held in January and Febuary will last about 90 minutes.
“We want it to come from the community itself because there is still a lot of misconception out there,” stated Couchie. “I’ll set my blanket and medicines down anywhere to help educate.”
Also beginning in the New Year is The Cardinal Series on CTV. Giles Blunt created the character Gerry Commanda based on Sergeant Couchie.
“One of my friends working with the North Bay Police made the suggestion to model a character after me,” noted Couchie.
Couchie recently talked at École Publique l’Odyssée, a local Secondary School in North Bay, giving a brief history on Residential Schools and Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
“A teacher there was a history major who had never heard it before,” noted Couchie, who added that even he lacked a full history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada growing up.
Schools continue to invite Couchie to talk about Walking the Path, a program now in its 20th year.
The retired OPP Sergeant developed a strong sense of community coming from a big family with 10 older brothers and two sisters. He lives with his family on Nipissing First Nation territory and comes from the Red-tailed Hawk or Gibwanasii Clan.
Couchie began with the North Bay City Police in 1981, but says his cultural journey began when he began to police in his own community. He worked with Nipissing First Nation Police which morphed into Anishinabek Police Services and then he became an OPP Officer. Couchie was the liaison during the Ipperwash wrongful death trial of Dudley George. After that, the OPP called on Couchie to educate police on Indigenous culture.
Now, passion continues to drive Couchie to give Youth a meaningful Indigenous experience when they participate in the Niigan Camp.
When Couchie started the youth camps 10 years ago, the goal was to teach kids about healthy relationships.
“In working with Aboriginal Youth, we have to keep an open mind that not all kids are coming from the same place,” stated Couchie. “Everybody has some baggage and everybody has a story. So we teach them right from the basics, first off – what the circle is.”
“Now we teach kids the Seven Grandfather Teachings: wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, and truth,” added Couchie.
The camp runs three times a year. Couchie focuses on changing kids lives for the better. He has travelled to Thunder Bay to help set up a camp and has brought mentors from Niigan Camp.
“Their issues are much different there,” noted Couchie. “They are from places like Pikangikum First Nation and Martin Falls and living in Thunder Bay now.
“These kids want their identity back,” explained Couchie. “When I was a kid, I knew nothing about being Ojibway. My father was a Residential School Survivor.”
Talking about nature brings on his smile. Couchie told of having respect for smart ravens. When he was young, a young raven was knocked out of nest from a felled tree. He saved the bird by hand feeding it.
“I could whistle and he would come and land on my arm,” added Couchie.
He opened his book to the last page to show me the painting of Couchie with his hand drum. Ravens fly from Couchie’s back and shoulder in the artwork by his daughter Heather Couchie, a tattoo artist. Her work is featured through the book.
The author explains the importance of the Eagle Feather as well. The majestic birds are seen swooping Lake Nipissing, leaving feathers on the islands. Couchie says a zoo near Orillia helps out.
“They give us Eagle Feathers for ceremonial use,” stated Couchie. “The feathers come off and they send them up here.”
“My granddaughter and I were driving out from the house. She said, ‘Papa, look on the road’; There was a huge, big feather. We stopped and she jumped out and it was an eagle feather,” recalled Couchie.
Raised on an Eagle Feather is available at the Eagles Nest on Migizii Miikan just outside North Bay.