The Courage to Care – As Reflected in the Life of One Man, Traditional Algonquin Elder William Commanda
He was born under the Morning Star on the eleventh of November in 1913, on the eve of the First World War and on a day we commemorate as a Day of Remembrance. His mother named 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 retreating. He is the Keeper of the sacred Seven Fires Prophecy Wampum Belt in the time that the Prophecy is unfolding.
William Commanda, the eighty seven year old Traditional Algonquin Elder is a great grandson of Pagnawatik, the hereditary chief who led his people from the Lake of Two Mountains area to establish a new home base away from persecution and control in their traditional hunting and trapping grounds at Kitigan Zibi. William was also the child who suffered the ravages of imported diseases like smallpox, and who faced near starvation as “authorities” confiscated the moose his father hunted. He is also North American Indian and chief who witnessed the oppression and near destruction of his land and peoples, language and culture at almost every turn throughout his life, yet maintained his identity as Mamiwinini, nomad.
But in 1961, diagnosed with terminal cancer, and at most painful low point of his life, he experienced a profound spiritual awakening, an awakening that placed him firmly on the Red Road of forgiveness, love, compassion and reconciliation. He saw an urgency in the need to bring together people of the four symbolic races of humankind, to evolve relationships based on these values, and to create a synergy to contribute to the spiritual transformation of a world seen by many as morally and spiritually bankrupt.
The nomad promoted his vision nationally and internationally. People across the world have been touched by his extensive work and outreach to promote racial harmony, cross cultural understanding, advance spiritual development and raise awareness of environmental issues and the abuse of Mother Earth.
The most special of his activities is the annual spiritual gathering that he hosts at his home. As he put it once, he covers most of the costs with his “old age cheques”. Almost a thousand people from Canada and the United States, as well as from such distant locations as Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Holland, and France attend. The participation of people from Spain during the 1999 gathering was particularly meaningful for the Elder, signifying the commencement of a process of reconciliation with the descendants of Columbus.
But he does much more. The vision of “A Circle of All Nations” is integral to the work and outreach of Elder Commanda, and is reflected in his untiring work with the United Nations and the world’s Indigenous Peoples; with the Sunbow Foundation and the 1995 seven and a half month “Walk For Mother Earth” (from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans) that he presided over; his teaching of Algonquin arts and crafts, including birch bark canoe making, both nationally and internationally; his linkage of indigenous Elders and peoples in his outreach through “Elders Without Borders”; and his unflagging willingness to make presentations and offer prayers and greetings at both humble and high profile national and international events to bring his message of love and unity to all.
He has been widely acknowledged and honoured 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”.
The Seven Fires Prophecy describes the evolution of life for Aboriginal peoples in North America since the arrival of the earliest settlers, and identifies the present times as being the time of the Seventh Fire. At this time, Elder Commanda tells us, the voice of indigenous peoples rises again after five hundred years of silence and oppression, to light a path that could lead to an eternal fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood amongst all nations.