Grandfather William Commanda Travels On


LOVES Wooden Canoes
William Commanda was an esteemed Native elder….a builder of birchbrark canoes….a friend of many including Kirk Wipper….I received an email from Ann Wipper:

Dear Friends:
It is with great sadness that I am sharing with you the news of the “travelling on” of our dear friend Grandfather William. He passed on early this morning. The yearly week-end “Gathering” in Maniwaki will start with the sunrise ceremony on Friday, August 5. It will be a time of prayer.
With a heavy heart,

One of the canoes in the Origins Gallery at the Canadian Canoe Museum was built by William and Mary Commanda….and it was an important part of the Kanawa Collection….William Commanda and Kirk Wipper had a very close relationship….William Commanda saw Kirk as a brother, not merely a collector of canoes….they were both deeply committed to various causes to protect and preserve the environment, wilderness areas, waterways, and Aboriginal rights. Kirk and William were definitely kindred spirits.

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Photo of William and Mary Commanda Canoe (16 ft. Bark Canoe), Canadian Canoe Museum, Peterborough (from

Photos from Kirk Wipper website,

Wikipedia has the following about William (

William Commanda, OC (Anishnabe name: Ojigkwanong) is an Algonquin elder, born November 11, 1913 in Kitigan-zibi, Quebec (Garden River/Riviere Desert), near Maniwaki, Quebec, 130 kilometres (81 miles) north of Ottawa in the Gatineau River valley. Commanda is the great-grandson of Chief Pakinawatik who led his people in 1854 from the Lake of theTwoMountainsto Réserve de la Rivière Désert, also known as the Kitigan-zibi Reserve, along the Gatineau River. Commanda worked as a guide, trapper and woodsman, a birch bark canoe maker and craftsman. Commanda was Keeper of several Algonquin Wampum Shell Belts which held records of prophecies, history, treaties and agreements. The three Wampum Belts under his care are:

  • the Seven Fires Prophecy Belt;
  • the Jay Treaty Border Crossing Belt; and
  • the Three Figure Welcoming/Agreement Wampum Belt.

Commanda served as Band Chief of the Kitigan-zibi Anishinabeg First Nation from 1951 to 1970. In 1987 at the fourth First Ministers Conference on inherent rights and self-government for Aboriginal people, Commanda began teaching about the messages of the wampum belts. He was invited in 1990 to provide a traditional blessing of the Canadian Human Rights Monument in Ottawa with the Dalai Lama. In 1998, Commanda participated in a ceremony at which he presented Nelson Mandela with an eagle feather on behalf of the First Nations of Canada. That same year, Commanda organized Elders Without Borders, a gathering of Aboriginal Elders and spiritual leaders from both North and South America.

In 2008, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

A more substantial biography is found on

A Mini-Biography of Dr. William Commanada, OC, Algonquin Elder

Founder, A Circleof All Nations

Ninety five year old Algonquin Elder William Commanda from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Maniwaki, Quebec was born on November 11, 1913 under the bright light of the Morning Star, so his mother named him Ojigkwanong; thus the larger universe figured in his personal story from the very beginning. Today, he is seen by many as the symbol of light emerging from the darkness of the first World War, illuminating a path to a new world with his vision for a Circle of All Nations, A Culture of Peace.

He is a respected spokesman and spiritual leader at many conferences, participates in United Nations peace and spiritual vigils, and his work is acknowledged nationally and internationally. Fully trilingual, he shares his words and prayers in Algonquin, and translates them into English and French. Central to Elder Commanda’s teachings are the concepts of equality, balance, respect and responsibility for Mother Earth, for all life forms and for people of all racial and cultural backgrounds, and he works ceaselessly, alone and entirely without an organization, staff, structure, formal or financial support to animate the Circle of All Nations.

A most senior representative of the Algonquins of the Ottawa River Watershed, he is the great, great grandson of the legendry Pakinawatik, the Algonquin chief who in the mid eighteen hundreds, led his people from their lands at Oka on the Lake of Two Mountains to their traditional hunting and trapping grounds at the confluence of the Desert and Gatineau. He is the carrier of three sacred Wampum Belts of historic and spiritual importance: the ancient Seven Fires Prophecy Belt about choice; the 1700s Welcoming Belt about sharing the grand natural resources and values of the original peoples with the newcomers; and the Jay Treaty Border Crossing Belt which recognizedTurtleIslandas a coherent entity. His ancestors inscribed their legends, prophecies and agreements in these carefully crafted items over many centuries. He is seen by many as the carrier of the Seven Fires Prophecy at the time of the unfolding of its final message, and the messages of all these ancient artifacts are as deeply relevant today, as they were in the past.

He was acclaimed chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg for over nineteen years, though he himself never participated in the elections. He also worked as a guide, trapper and woodsman for much of his life. He is a birch bark canoe maker and craftsman of international renown, and there is a special display dedicated to his work at the Canadian Canoe Museum of Peterborough. He built a canoe for Queen Margrethe of Denmark, and he helped Pierre Trudeau repair his famous birch bark canoe. At the age of 90, he shared his canoe making skills and philosophy in Valerie Pouyanne’s documentary, Good Enough for Two.

He has promoted environmental stewardship and respect for Mother Earth passionately for many decades. He conducted pipe ceremonies for the Pre-Rio Earth Summit Conference hosted by President Mitterand ofFrancein 1991, and his prayers lie behind Agenda 21. He participated in the United Nations first Indigenous Cry of the Earth conference. He served as spiritual guide to the 1995 seven and a half month Sunbow Five Walk from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific, to raise awareness of the growing environmental crisis; received the Bill Mason River Conservation Award in 2004; hosted workshops on water stewardship in 2004 and 2006, and 2009; is honorary chair of the Ottawa Heritage River Designation Committee; and offers interventions on current environmental issues such as the identification of the American Eel as a Species at Risk, the building of a mega dump on Danford Lake and the Navigable Waters Act.

He is the recipient of numerous awards and acknowledgements of his works and talent: the Wolf Project and Harmony Awards for his efforts to foster racial harmony and peace building through the creation of a Circle of All Nations (one very well received example of this commitment is the annual international gathering he hosts at his home during the first weekend of August – the 2001 Gathering is presented in the Circle of All Nations documentary); a Justice Award from the University of Ottawa and a Peace Award from Friends for Peace. He promotes restorative justice, forgiveness and his outreach to prisoners is captured in Lucie Ouimet’s National Film Board Documentary, Encounter with an Algonquin Seer.

Recently, his efforts were acknowledged in Ottawa with two special recognitions: in 2005, with an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Ottawa, shortly after his book, Learning from a Kindergarten Dropout, was published; and in 2006, with the Key to the City of Ottawa, a singular honour for an Aborignal person from a reserve in Quebec. This was presented on Victoria Island, where the tireless ninety five year old continues working on his vision for a National Indigenous Centre, for the restoration and development of the Sacred Chaudière Site as a special national historic centre, and as a think tank for environmental stewardship and peace building of national and global relevance. Two other books, Learning from a Kindergarten Dropout Book Two, and Passionate Waters–Butterfly Kisses include further reflections on his work and ideology.

In December 2008, he was appointed Officer of the Order ofCanada, for his leadership as an elder who has promoted intercultural understanding and has raised awareness of the traditions and legacies of Canada’s Aboriginal people. Elder Commanda says he is deeply honoured to witness this recognition of the relevance of Indigenous Wisdom to this country at this time.

In November 2009, the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards Foundation announced his selection as 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. In January, 2010 Willis College announced the Dr. William Commanda Scholarship!

William had celebrated his 97th birthday on November 11. 2010.


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We have to have one mind for the Four Directions. Until we reach that one mind, we cannot be filled with understanding…. The Creator will not answer until you have just one mind, just like if you have one person. – Grandfather William Commanda, Algonquin Elder

It’s all spirit and it’s all connected. – Grandfather William Commanda, Algonquin Elder

And there are Four Corners of the Earth that we talk about, the Four Colors of people, and the Four Winds. You see the winds-they are spirits. – Grandfather William Commanda, Algonquin Elder

Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology…. has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there. - William Commanda, Mamiwinini, Canada, 1991

Central to all of Elder Commanda’s teachings are the fundamental concepts of equality, as well as respect for Mother Earth, for all life and for people of all racial and cultural backgrounds…Chief Commanda is convinced that the future of life on the planet depends on our learning to live together in harmony with nature upon the land… - Remarks of Robert Chiarelli, Mayor of Ottawa upon presenting Grandfather Commanda with the Key to the City in 2006.


William Commanda: 1913 – 2011

By Staff
Wednesday, August 03, 2011



Anishinabek mourn passing of Grandfather William Commanda

UOI OFFICES – (August 2, 2011) –

Anishinabek Nation leaders are paying tribute to Grandfather William Commanda who passed into the Spirit World today.

“He was a gift to the Algonquin people and an important figure for all First Nations people. It is a sad day when our elders pass and he will be remembered by many,” said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee.

He was born on Nov. 11, 1913, and named Ojigkwanong.

He was the great-grandson of Pakinawatik, a hereditary Algonquin chief from the mid-1800s who lead his people to settle in their current territory by Maniwaki, Que.

Commanda was the former chief of Kitigan Zibi and he held the position from 1951 to 1970.

It was his role as an Elder and spiritual leader, however, that he will most likely be remembered.

He rose to international prominence for his efforts at bridging the gap between cultures.

His travels took him all over the world, including to the United Nations.

In 1990 he was asked to bless the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa along with the Dalai Lama.

He also presented Nelson Mandela with an eagle feather in 1998 on behalf of First Nations people.

Commanda also received numerous awards and honours for his work, including being named as Officer of the Order of Canada, receiving the key to the city of Ottawa along with an honourary doctorate degree from the University of Ottawa and a lifetime achievement award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards Foundation.

Commanda is the carrier of three wampum belts of historic and spiritual importance: the Seven Fires Prophecy Belt – which represents choice, the 1700s Welcoming Belt – which represents sharing our grand natural resources and values of the First Peoples with the newcomers and the Jay Treaty Border Crossing Belt – which recognizes Turtle Island as a coherent entity.

The Anishinabek Nation established the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949.

The UOI is a political advocate for 39 member communities across Ontario, representing approximately 55,000 people.

The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.

I was fortunate enough to meet Grandfather Commanda at the Skydome Pow Wow in Toronto in the 1990s….I was wearing a button known as the Unity Button….that had the 4 sacred colours, red, white, black, and yellow….the 4 sacred races of man….he said that if one looks at the button with these 4 sacred colours on it, in a circle….that these 4 colours all meet in the middle of this circle….and just like that we must find a way for all the races of man to meet in the middle.

Grandfather, Chi Meegwetch for all you did….for all you taught….and may the work that you started continue on….

May the stars carry your sadness away,

May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,

May hope forever wipe away your tears,

And, above all, may silence make you strong. - Chief Dan George

Hold on to what is good,

Even if it’s a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe,

Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.

Hold on to what you must do,

Even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to your life,

Even if it’s easier to let go.

Hold on to my hand,

Even if someday I’ll be gone away from you. - A Pueblo Indian Prayer

What is life?

It is the flash of a firefly in the night.

It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.

It is the little shadow which runs across

the grass and loses itself in the sunset. - Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator 1830 – 1890

Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other,

thus should we do,

for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World. - Black Elk

Paddles up until later then….
When I am ready to return
I will be as once I was.
Hear my heart:
This man
Who was given to Life
Is welcomed once more into the All;
He who was once part of eternity
Remains part of eternity;
He returns now to the All:
To sky and earth
To air and soil
To rock and water.
Enfold him in loving arms,
A child of the Universe:
Know he is part of you
And you are him.
We stand in gratitude,
For in knowing him
We know ourselves
We touch the heart of All.
Thanks Kathy for beautiful words....and Macky for kind thoughts (really I only scratched the surface of this incredible man)....