Grandfather William Commanda died early this morning, two days before the start of his annual gathering in Maniwaki, Quebec, Canada. He was 97 years old.
Among the many accomplishments in his long life as a protector and defender of the land, Grandfather served as Spiritual Advisor to the Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth in 1995-96, a walk chronicled in Odyssey of the 8th Fire. The story of Grandfather's leadership of this epic walk is also at the heart of the project to create an audiobook based on the nonfiction Tales of the Whirling Rainbow. I am honored to have known Grandfather, and to have traveled with him, since 1989. He was a remarkable man with a brilliant soul.
Rest in Peace, Mishomis (Grandfather)
One of the many birchbark canoes Grandfather Commanda built over the years.
One vivid memory I have of Grandfather's resolute nature comes from Friday, November 24, 1995, in the desert to the west of Rio Rancho, New Mexico. It was Day 155 in the Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth, what I have come to describe as the Odyssey of the 8th Fire. In his 80s at the time, Grandfather served as Spiritual Advisor for the walk and its epic quest across Turtle Island (North America).
But our grand pilgrimage for peace and unity had hit the wall of human nature by the time we got to New Mexico. We had been arguing viciously among ourselves, and fractured into four or more groups – each group filled with suspicions and hostility.
As we arrived at a desert knoll to hold our council and air our ferocious grievances against each other, the wind rose. It blew so hard – 45 to 50 mph – that the air literally began to scream across the desert. The unrelenting desert gale blew stinging sand into everyone and everything. The storm rocked across the desert relentlessly, whipping ceaselessly through our gathering as we huddled low on a dune, seeking a windbreak. We prayed.
In the western desert, Grandfather listened to us for a long, long time, and then confronted our brokenness. His hands shook and his eyes filled with tears. He wiped his tears and then spoke. "No," he said. "This is not my way, this is not the way. You must all stay together. You must stay in unity.”
He was unshakeable on this point: “You must all stay together as one group, one circle,” he said. “You can’t kick people out of the hoop. That's not the way forward. You must find a way to stay together ...You cannot fulfill the Seven Fires teachings any other way ...”
In this manner it was settled. We were all to walk together – one reconciled, reunited walk.
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With the help of his companion Romola Treblecock, Grandfather Commanda developed his own website, a Circle of All Nations. Among the many treasures in his spiritual legacy to the people, he left his vision for Asinabka - an indigenous guided island for personal and planetary healing, located downtown in the river that runs through the heart of Ottawa, Ontario and Hull, Quebec. Grandfather Commanda's final vision is only part way to fulfillment. It needs wider support to come to full realization.