Kihew Feather Teaching, sacred part of Nêhiyawak life

May 13, 2023

Kapawe’no First Nation – The Kihew (Eagle) holds a very special place for Nêhiyawak. Kihew soared so high in the heavens that our people held it in high esteem since it was so much closer to the Creator. Kihew became a power of vision, strength, and courage. There are many special meanings and special uses for Kihew.

Nêhiyawak believe that Kihew is the principle messenger of the Creator so it has a connection to the spirit world. Kihew flies the closest to Creator and, therefore, can see the past, present and future at a glance. Kihew sees the flow of change. It alerts us to the changes so that we can respond appropriately. Kihew soars above us all, sometimes out of sight to us, but never out of its own sight. Kihew sees and hears all and sits in the east on the Medicine Wheel with the direction of leadership and courage.
Kihew is a powerful symbol of truth and courage; that’s why its feathers are such powerful tools for healing, and why there are special ceremonies for Kihew feathers. Kihew teaches us that it is okay to combine wisdom and courage — it is okay to be wise enough to know that a change needs to be made in one’s life and then finding the courage to execute the change.

A gift of an Feather is a great honor. It is a mark of distinction, one that could indicate that a rite of passage has been earned. The Feather represents the responsibilities and behaviors that are all a part of the preparation, learning and commitment to a spirit. It is in this way that life is honored and becomes whole.

THE QUILL of an Kinew Feather represents stability, strength, and foundation. In the Medicine Wheel, it represents the spirituality of the people, so it sits in the east. This is where the beginning and ending meet. The quill represents the beginning and ending in the spiritual journey of life. Birth and death are represented here as rites of passage from and to the spiritual world. Conception, the nine-month journey and childbirth are sacred and begin here. Traditionally, there are ceremonies or celebrations for the beginning of life.

THE PLUME of an Kinew Feather or fluff is white, billowy, and soft. It represents the purity, lightness, and gentleness of a child, full of the spirit and new to the cycle of life. The plume is distinctive and is usually a symbol of honor. The plume in the ‘Cycle of Life’ is the beginning of the formative years, childhood. It is the age of innocence, pride, and dreams – a time for bonding and attachment to relationships, values, attitudes, behaviors, personalities, character and to the environment. It is a time for security and integration.

THE VANE of an Kihew Feather represents flexibility and adaptability with gentleness and firmness. Each vane has a unique design, as each feather is unique. Each individual is also unique. This part of the feather expands, just as youth expands into the world and they become responsible for themselves.

In the CYCLE OF LIFE, the vane is the continuation of the formative years. The children have achieved their rights of passage as they become adults; a boy becomes a hunter or warrior, and a girl has reached womanhood. During this phase, there is learning and guidance. The mind, the mouth, the heart, and the hand (avenues for the spirit) are being nurtured. Reinforcement is given in the proper direction, in order to strengthen their spiritual well-being and identity. It is a time of enrichment, logic, and proof.
The ENTIRE KIHEW FEATHER is straight, strong, firm, and gentle. The TOP PORTION represents the peak of life. The behaviors of adulthood are to bring out the best in beauty and goodness. Men have achieved bravery, skill or character and have been renamed accordingly. Women have achieved a level of knowledge basic to the survival of the people. Self-discipline, survival skills, loyalty, solidarity, and respect within family are above all individual interests. The foundation laid for them is intact. Interdependence, empathy, insight, and foresight enables them to be keepers and protectors of the culture. It is at this phase that marriage and childbearing are foremost.

The OPPOSITE VANE continues to represent flexibility and adaptability with gentleness and firmness. In the ‘Cycle of Life’, a level of seniority is established. Conduct of parenthood has been proven and movement into grand parenthood is inevitable. Relationships, community, and nationhood are important. Responsibility for the welfare of others, young and old is the purpose of guidance. To encourage and support others is to give back what was given and to give more of oneself.

As in the opposite, the PLUME of the Eagle Feather represents purity, lightness, and gentleness. Purity in mind, body and spirit is achieved in old age. Elders become frail and weak like children. It is a very honorable age that speaks not of arrogance or greed but of the fulfillment of life to the best of one’s ability. They become the keepers of the wisdom with peaceful energy, authority, and purpose. Elders are as highly esteemed as the Eagle.

Once again, the quill represents the beginning and ending in the spiritual journey of life. Death is at the end of the Cycle of Life and is also a rite of passage into the spiritual world. The spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of loved ones into eternity. One has known his natural space, only once does he pass this way, he has made his journey.


Great original story by Myra Laramee, Rene McGurry

Last modified: May 19, 2023

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