Mi'kmaq history and people: The Eagle and the Eagle Feather

Compiled by Jasen Benwah

je'sn penwa
Spotted Wolf

Pjila'si (welcome). In Ktaqamkuk (Newfoundland), we all know of the great and mighty bird of prey; the eagle. The bald eagle or “Hallaeetus leucocephalus” is native to both Newfoundland and Labrador. The Bald Eagle is the only exclusive North American eagle. Found throughout Canada, being most common along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, but can also be found in all provinces and territories. The lifespan has been recorded at almost 22 years in captivity. For those spending any time in the woods, they are your constant companions throughout the day perched high in the trees and soaring high above. During breeding season you can expect to wake up to the sound of young eagles crying for their morning feeding. Ordinarily they are found near large rivers, lakes, coastal areas and nearby rural areas, depending on availability of food. Their primary food is fish, birds (especially waterfowl) and mammals that may be taken alive or dead. When staple food is not available, bald eagles will eat almost anything. It was even recorded that they have attacked newborn caribou. The eagles kill the calves by pushing their talons into their backs and rib cages, causing the mammals to hemorrhage. Although the eagle once considered to be endangered their numbers has increased thanks to conservation measures.

In the Mi’kmaw language (Míkmawísimk), the eagle is known as the Kitpu. The bird and its feather to our people are sacred symbols and objects that are universally recognized throughout Turtle Island (North America) by most native tribes and widely used in various ceremonies. The eagle or Kitpu is Benoit clan and is the medium through which Native people can identify and appreciate the significance of the Creator's spirit among them, holds the highest esteem and honour. This honour and esteem extends as well to those who merely own or carry a feather or a claw of an eagle. It is a great honour to be presented with an eagle feather. I was presented with one by a Mi’kmaw elder. In any talking or healing circle, the eagle feather is very evident and is used widely to energize and lead the participants into many cultural activities and ceremonies. The Kitpu is the official symbol of the Benoit First Nation Mi’kmaw band of the Port au Port Peninsula. Wela’lin (thank you).

Compiled by Jasen S. Benwah

Local Mi’kmaw researcher

Cape St. George, NL.


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