University of Regina honoured with eagle staff for efforts toward reconciliation

An eagle staff with 22 eagle feathers was presented to the president of the University of Regina on Monday, in recognition of the school's commitment to Indigenous Peoples.

Elder Roy Bison says university helped his family traditionally as well as educationally

University of Regina President Vianne Timmons and Elder Roy Bison stand with the eagle staff. (Matt Howard/CBC)

An eagle staff with 22 eagle feathers was presented to the president of the University of Regina on Monday, in recognition of the school's commitment to Indigenous Peoples.

Chiefs, students and executives gathered in the university's research and innovation building to witness the symbolic act of recognition in a time of reconciliation.

The eagle staff was created by Elder Roy Bison and his son Teddy, who is a student in the Faculty of Media, Art and Performance at the school.

"This staff, we made it because all my children have come to the university here," said Roy Bison, who lives on Ocean Man First Nation.

"My wife got her three degrees, her master's here, and I also was in a program here," he said.

A news release from the university said eagle staffs are unique, sacred symbols used for ceremonial purposes, much like a nation's flag. According to elders, traditionally an eagle staff represented power and strength and it was carried by warriors of that tribe.

Roy Bison said that the university not only helped his family with education, it also helped them in ceremonial ways.  

For Bison, the need to take care of the future goes hand in hand with the eagle staff.

"Today I'm happy that we are a part of this history. Maybe my great-grandchildren will still be here ... and we get the next generation prepared, this is what it's all about."

A high honour

Nearly 2,000 Indigenous students were registered at the university for the fall 2017 semester, accounting for 13 per cent of the student population. Increasing Indigenous student access to the school is part of its 2015-2020 strategic plan.

In addition to students and executives, chiefs from Nekaneet First Nation, White Bear First Nation and Starblanket Cree Nation were present for the ceremony.

Starblanket Cree Nation chief Mike Starr said the gift of an eagle staff is significant.

"In terms of it being such a very high honour from our people, they have to reach to that honour," said Starr.

He added it's a reminder that education is the new buffalo and it's a lifelong journey.

"This university is part of that long-term education process that our ancestors wanted us to be a part of."

Flags installed

Vianne Timmons, president and vice-chancellor of U of R, said she knows what an important honour it is to have the staff bestowed upon the school.

"By accepting it, we have to fight to ensure the education of all students, in particular our Indigenous students," she said.

Timmons said that, in accepting the eagle staff, the university can now be seen as a warrior of education.

The university also installed two Treaty 4 flags in the Research and Innovation Centre that will be a permanent reminder to all who walk in front of the Aboriginal Student Centre that the university is committed to recognizing the territory it was built on.

The eagle staff will be housed in the university's Office of Indigenization.

About the Author

Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC