National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo performed a Nuu-chah-nulth ceremony and presented an eagle feather during Nelson Mandela’s memorial services in South Africa.
“Just before noon today in Johannesburg, I was honoured to attend the lying in state of Madiba (Nelson Mandela),” said Atleo in a Dec. 11 statement delivered by former national chief Ovide Mercredi at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly. “I offered a Nuu-chah-nulth ceremony on behalf of all First Nations from coast to coast to coast. We gathered the full Canadian delegation in a circle and presented the South African High Commissioner with an eagle feather and, in full respect, passed to him the sacred responsibility to carry it with him to Madiba’s ancestral homeland to be buried with Madiba.”
Atleo also presented a second eagle feather to the High Commissioner in friendship and as a reminder of the participation of First Nations in the memorial.
“Following the ceremony I reminded the entire delegation, including Prime Minister Stephen
Harper, that we must take home with us Madiba’s spirit of reconciliation, that reconciliation requires respect on behalf of all parties, including respect for indigenous rights and recognition of indigenous peoples,” Atleo said. “But as Madiba demonstrated through his life and work, reconciliation is possible.”
While attending Mandela’s memorial services on Dec. 9-10, Atleo also sent back a video message to the Special Chiefs Assembly. The video is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5ThyvYtkLs.
Regional Chief Stan Beardy said Mandela was a true personal hero to indigenous peoples around the world because of his “greatest achievement” of freeing South Africa from apartheid.
“The freeing of indigenous peoples from apartheid in South Africa is something indigenous peoples in Canada strongly aspire to,” Beardy said, noting that if it were not for Mandela, many in South Africans would not enjoy the peaceful co-existence and reconciliation that exists today.
Although Mandela was once labelled a terrorist by many world leaders, Beardy said he now embodies the hope that freedom is achievable for the oppressed.
“As indigenous peoples, we identify with Nelson Mandela in our struggle for justice in Canada,” Beardy said. “He is proof that with vision, sacrifice and peaceful determination oppression can be lifted. If Canadian political leaders strive to be more like Mandela who confronted oppression head on, we would all be in a better place in Canada.”
Beardy said that Mandela stood for hope, courage and integrity and he came from a long line of leaders.
“Based on how he carried his life, it is obvious that he was mentored and guided by traditional Elders from his homelands,” Beardy said. “We also express our prayers and condolences to them, the people who provided him strength and direction throughout his 95 years.”
The Grand Council of the Crees also expressed their condolences to the people of South Africa, noting they stood in solidarity with South Africans during the struggle against apartheid in Canada and internationally including at the United Nations.
“We drew strength and inspiration from Mandela and his African National Congress comrades’ astounding defiance, determination, humility, patience, restraint and their ultimate commitment to a moral reconciliation,” said Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come. “The long walk to freedom is still underway in South Africa and also in Australia, the United States, Canada and New Zealand to name a few.”
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