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William Commanda, ‘Gift to the Algonquin People,’ Passes into Spirit World

Ojigkwanong, William Commanda, is mourned by the Anishinabek Nation after his death on August 2 at age 97.
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The Anishinabek Nation is mourning its grandfather, William Commanda, who passed away on August 2 at age 97.

"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 in a release to the media.

Born on November 11, 1913, Ojigkwanong, as he was named, was the great-grandson of Pakinawatik, the hereditary Algonquin chief who led his people to their current territory near Maniwaki, Quebec, the Union of Ontario Indians said in a release. Commanda himself served as chief of Kitigan Zibi from 1951 to 1970.

Commanda was known worldwide for bridging cultural gaps. He not only blessed the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa alongside the Dalai Lama in 1990 but also presented Nelson Mandela with an eagle feather from all First Nations in 1998. Named as an officer of the Order of Canada in 2008, he was also awarded the key to the city of Ottawa, an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Ottawa and in 2010 a lifetime achievement award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.

In selecting him for the Order of Canada honor in 2008, the Governor General's office noted Commanda's role as a founder of the Circle of All Nations, a group formed to promote "indigenous wisdom and peace," as well as his work organizing international gatherings of indigenous elders and spiritual leaders from throughout the Americas "to foster respect and reconciliation amongst nations."

The National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation highlighted Commanda's work as a "master canoe builder" of more than 75 birch-bark canoes, with Queen Margrethe of Denmark among the recipients, and noted the 2010 book Learning from a Kindergarten Dropout: A Reflection on Elder William Commanda by Romola Vasantha Thumbadoo (Circle of Nations), for detailing his accomplishments.

Commanda's A Circle of All Nations website is headlined with a prophecy of peace:

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"It was prophesized that the time would come when the voice of indigenous peoples would rise again after five hundred years of silence and oppression, to light a path to an eternal fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood amongst all nations."

This spirit was noted by the numerous groups that honored the leader.

"Some might describe Grandfather Commanda as North America’s very own Dalai Lama," the Aboriginal Achievement Awards Foundation said in its writeup of the leader. "Many now believe that William Commanda holds a meaningful vision of good like for all, particular during times of global unrest. He actively promotes sustainable relationships, a concept that celebrates biodiversity and life in all forms. He works hard to advance his vision for an Indigenous healing and peace building centre on Victoria Island, the ancient meeting place of his ancestors in the national capital region."

The spiritual leader carried three sacred wampum belts: the Seven Fires Prophecy Belt, representing choice; the 1700s Welcoming Belt, representing the sharing of natural resources and values with the colonial newcomers, and the Jay Treaty Border Crossing Belt, recognizing Turtle Island “as a coherent entity,” the Anishinabek Nation release stated.

Tributes are pouring into Commanda's Community Facebook page.

"Rest in Peace William Commanda," wrote Cercle de Paix next to a photo of Commanda and the Dalai Lama. "Much Love & Respect... You will be in our heart always... Migwech! for your example and teachings..."

As commenter Mike Kitchi Makwa Patterson put it, "Good travelling William."