Maskihkîy Okimawiw, which is Cree for Medicine Chief and Randy Elm’s spirit name, isn’t an event planner, but he had a vision to plan a meaningful gathering that came to life at the heart of Métis Crossing last week.

Partnering with the Alberta Society for Injured Birds of Prey in Strathcona County, Randy, Senior Advisor Indigenous Workforce Development and co-chair of the Journeys Indigenous employee network at Suncor, led a moving event: the release of a juvenile bald eagle named Tina, who was rehabilitated by the society after being found sick with parasites.

A man holding a bald eagle

Elder Philip Campiou about to release the juvenile bald eagle named Tina1

Journeys hosted the eagle release event for employees and community members to come together to learn about the significance of the eagle in Indigenous culture. "This event resonated deeply with Indigenous heritage,” says Randy. “The eagle is sacred and symbolic as the biggest bird; it can fly the highest carrying our prayers and smudge to the creator.”

On the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, the event began with traditional ceremonies, including the burning of sage, sweet grass, and willow roots used in smudges, and the traditional Métis melodies of a fiddler and guitarist.

Prior to releasing Tina, Elder Phillip honoured Randy by presenting him with an eagle feather, a symbol of honour, respect and connection between the owner, the Creator and the eagle.

This was followed by introductions from the Elders, representing both First Nations and Métis communities. "We started with the drum song, a powerful tradition that connects us to our ancestors and the land. The drum's heartbeat echoes our heartbeat, and it was essential to set the tone for the day," says Randy.

As Tina’s handler carefully removed her from her crate and passed her to Elder Phillip, she appeared restless. In a soothing whisper in Cree, Elder Phillip reassured her with, "Don't worry, you're going to be free. You're going to carry our prayers to the Creator."

As the drummer and singer began, Tina immediately calmed, seemingly soothed by the drum's rhythm and Elder Phillip.

As Elder Philip released Tina, she circled around over top of the gathering putting on a show for the crowd. "Watching Tina soar back into the sky was a powerful reminder of our shared responsibility to protect and honour the natural world," says Randy.

The event was powerful for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, offering an opportunity to witness the importance of conservation efforts through wildlife rehabilitation and the significance of our relationship with nature. Randy says, "The eagle release was a holistic and inclusive event, welcoming over 150 attendees, including Karen Keegans and other leaders from Suncor, highlighting Suncor's commitment to the Journey of Reconciliation."

A group of Suncor employee standing together

Suncor employees, Journeys network and senior leaders gathered at the Eagle Release event1

“We all took a moment to reflect on the significance of this event and connecting with Mother Earth,” says Randy. The event ended with a prayer from Elder Philip and then it came time to celebrate with a Cree dancer performing the Chicken Dance and an eagle release honour song.

An Indigenous dancer in traditional dress performing solo

Cree dancer performing the Chicken Dance1

1Photographed by Dave Rhyno of Olive Drab Photography.