APTN National News
GATINEAU, Que.–Nelson Mandela will be buried with an eagle feather brought to South Africa by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo, it was announced at a special chiefs assembly Wednesday.
The eagle feather will travel with Mandela’s body to Qunu, the place where the man known to his people as Madiba grew-up and which will be laid to rest. Mandela will be buried there Sunday.
Atleo gave the eagle feather to Canada’s high commissioner to South Africa who has the task of ensuring the feather gets into the hands of the South African government for Mandela’s final journey. Atleo also gave a smaller eagle feather to the high commissioner as a “gesture of friendship” and a symbol of the importance of the task.
“The eagle feather was given to the high commissioner who has been charged with the responsibility,” said Ovide Mercredi, a former AFN national chief, who broke the news Wednesday morning to chiefs gathered in a Gatineau, Que., casino this week for their yearly winter assembly.
Mercredi said the eagle feather was handed over following a ceremony in Mandela’s honour requested by Atleo involving the Canadian delegation, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Atleo sang a song from his nation used to honour the death of hereditary leaders, said Mercredi.
Mandela was not only once president of South Africa and a leader in the fight against apartheid; he was also a hereditary leader among the Xhosa. His father was a tribal chief in Transkei and named Mandela Rolihlahla at birth. Rolihlahla means “pulling branches of a tree,” but colloquially it also means “troublemaker,” according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s website.
“Our national chief was given the opportunity to perform a particular ceremony while Mandela was lying in state,” said Mercredi. “Our national chief said his prayer and also sang a song that is particular to his nation, a song that they used to recognize leadership and in particular hereditary chiefs and the name as you know that Mandela has been given is Madiba which is in recognition of his status within his nation, with his own people as a hereditary leader.”
Madiba is the name of Mandela’s clan and stems from the name of a Thembu chief who ruled in the Transkei during the 18th century, according to the foundation.
Mercredi said the ceremony included Harper, three former prime ministers, two former governor generals and the premiers who were part of the Canadian delegation. Former governor-general Adrianne Clarkson held an eagle feather during the ceremony.
Mercredi also said that Atleo also discussed Mandela’s legacy and the current relationship between Canada and its Indigenous population with former prime ministers Jean Chretien and Joe Clarke.
“(They discussed) the importance of bringing to Canada the teachings and lessons provided by Mandela with respect to peace and reconciliation,” said Mercredi. “That leadership needs to be demonstrated in this country…The national chief is reporting to us that he has begun that dialogue of reconciliation of justice with the leaders he is travelling with.”