Honoring a Venerable Keeper of the Land

“Central to all of Elder Commanda’s teachings are the fundamental concepts of equality, as well as respect for Mother Earth, for all life and for people of all racial and cultural backgrounds…Chief Commanda is convinced that the future of life on the planet depends on our learning to live together in harmony with nature upon the land…”

– Remarks of Robert Chiarelli, Mayor of Ottawa upon presenting Grandfather Commanda with the Key to the City in 2006.

Grandfather William Commanda

My beloved friend and mentor for over 20 years, Grandfather William Commanda, is cruising through the environmentally and economically  severe summer of 2010, headed resolutely for his 97th birthday come November. Among his adventures this summer in service to the land: meeting England’s Queen Elizabeth again, and asking her support for preservation of sacred land. He first met the Queen in 1953 at her coronation. This time she came to his land, Ottawa, capital city of Canada. The story of their encounter this summer is recorded on the blog kept by his companion, Romola Treblecock.

In 1995-96 I had the honor of being one of the walkers with Grandfather when he served as spiritual guide for the Sunbow Five Walk, a pilgrimage lasting eight months. We took our initial steps at First Encounter Beach on the Eastern seaboard of the Atlantic, as native and non-native peoples of all colors and faiths walked in continual ceremony across the continent to take prayers and messages of sustainability and peace-building across the land to the Pacific. All this I chronicled in Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

But Grandfather had a long and illustrious history before that pilgrimage. Arriving with the Morning Star in 1913 on the eve of the First World War, he was given his first name by his mother, who called him Ojigkwanong after the star that signifies illumination from darkness. He was born into the Squirrel clan, and like the Squirrel, was destined to walk the hills and valleys, the ups and downs of his life, head first, never going backward. He is the Keeper of the sacred Seven Fires Prophecy Wampum Belt in the time that the teachings are unfolding with the promise of an 8th Fire if the land is respected and honored.

A former maker of birch bark canoes and a wilderness guide, he has been widely acknowledged and honored for his “courage to care” by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, and is the recipient of both the Wolf and the Harmony Awards for his efforts to create a “Circle of All Nations.” This is the most special of his activities, an annual spiritual gathering that he hosts at his home on the shore of Lake Bitobi in Maniwaki, about 100 kilometers north of Ottawa. The gathering is tradition that has been free and open to all for over 40 years. Almost a thousand people participate every year coming from Canada and the USA, as well as from such distant locations as Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Holland, and France. The dates for this summer are August 6-8, 2010.

Now, above all at this stage of his long life, Grandfather Commanda is resolved to realize Asinakba, his vision to establish a global healing center at Victoria Island. The Island is a jewel of nature, strategically located in the middle of the river that runs through downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, under the shadow of Parliament Hill, where the government of Canada meets.  For countless centuries, Victoria Island was a traditional spiritual meeting ground for the Algonquin peoples.

For the sake of all the land and all the people, Grandfather envisions returning the island to its spiritual purpose by establishing an International Peace Center at the Sacred Site of Asinabka -Chaudière Falls. The center would host programs and processes for individual, group, and planetary healing, development and peace. Toward this end, heading on toward his 97th birthday, he perseveres — a venerable Keeper of the Land.

Asinakba - Chaudiere Falls at Victoria Island, Ottawa, Canada

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