Honouring Ceremony

Posted in: Elder Messages, Uncategorized

 Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Jr, Nitamabit – The Original Way; One who Sits in Front, and Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Leading Earth Man)

On November 6, 2021, hundreds gathered at The Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness in Sagkeeng First Nation  

and Rideau Hall in Ottawa, ON to Honour

As The National Turtle Lodge Council of Elders and Knowledge Keepers honoured Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Jr. and his spiritual names, Nitamabit (pronounced Nittum- a-bit) – The Original Way; One who Sits in Front, and Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Leading Earth Man), in recognition of his leadership and role identified by his names, his service to the People and Mother Earth, and his work in fulfilment of the dream and vision of the Turtle Lodge to awaken, nurture and strengthen the spirit in all Peoples. 

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Knowledge Keeper Darrell Bob, St’at’imc Nation leads Honouring Song with Bear Dancers and Singers from the St’at’imc Nation during Honouring Ceremony for Elder Dr. David Courchene.

Kinanakomigo – we thank you, Elder Dr Harry Bone and the rest of the National Turtle Lodge Council of Elders and Knowledge Keepers – for creating this opportunity to show our love and appreciation for a beautiful spiritual leader.

On, Saturday November 6, 2021, we honoured Elder Dr. David Courchene – a man who has inspired so many by having faith and following his vision of building a Turtle Lodge, his teachings and great love for and belief in the people, that the human spirit has the capacity to transcend our challenges and rise to live the purpose and original instructions we were all given – to take care of each other and our home, Mother Earth. 


Elder David Courchene looks on during Honouring Ceremony Saturday November 6 at the Turtle Lodge

 Honouring Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Jr. and his spiritual names, Nitamabit and Nii Gaani Aki Inini

While hundreds gathered at the Turtle Lodge to honour Elder Dr Dave Courchene and his Vision of Turtle Lodge, Governor General Mary Simon and her Husband, His Excellency Whit Grant Fraser, hosted a simultaneous event in his honour at Rideau Hall.

Listen to their remarks here.

David Suzuki shared the following remarks at the Honouring Ceremony on Saturday November 6, 2021 at the Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness to honour Elder Dr Dave Courchene and his Vision of Turtle Lodge.

Listen to his remarks here.


Laughter is medicine… moment captured during Honouring Ceremony for Elder Dr. David Courchene 


Beautiful painting of Elder Dr. David Courchene and his late Wife Orianna Courchene, gifted to Elder Courchene by Biigtigong First Nation during Honouring Ceremony 

Early Years

Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Jr. was born in Sagkeeng Anishinaabe Nation into a family of leaders. His great-grandfather, Joseph Courchene, and grandfather, Paul Courchene, were both Chiefs of Sagkeeng. His father, Dr. David Courchene, Sr. was Chief of Sagkeeng, the Grand Chief and a co-founder of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood. These men were great political leaders who influenced Elder Courchene in profound ways, always encouraging him to be proud of his identity as an Anishinaabe Person. This pride was instilled in Elder Courchene despite the environment of domination and subjugation, marked by the policies of the Government of Canada including the Indian Act and Residential Schools.  

Growing up, it was Dave’s grandmother, mother, and father who had the biggest influence in his life, through the spirit of love and kindness expressed by his mother and grandmother, and the discipline of leadership expressed by his father. 

His mother taught him by example how we should all live our lives, by giving of ourselves, especially when it comes to our parents, our grandparents, and the Elders. They taught Dave that when you give or share something from your heart, it is an act of kindness and is rewarded spiritually by the Creator.  


In 1967, while still in high school, Elder Courchene was asked to be part of a group of ten runners, young Indigenous men, to run the flame from Minneapolis to open the Pan American Games in Winnipeg. Elder Courchene accepted this invitation and his journey as a Frontrunner, carrying the torch, began. This group came to be known as Frontrunners, or Niigaanibatoo in the Anishinaabe language. 

The Frontrunner, in Anishinaabe culture, has always been a messenger for the People. Long ago our People used to recognize individuals who were athletic and in tune with nature’s laws. They became known as Frontrunners. They would run ahead to carry a message of the People to other communities. The road that was chosen for Elder Courchene and the Frontrunners to run in 1969 was an ancient path that the Anishinaabe People had run for thousands of years as they related to each other, delivering messages. This experience as a Frontrunner, carrying the flame, taught Elder Courchene much about leadership from a spiritual context, in the ways of his ancestors. In Indigenous understanding, the sacred fire is a doorway to the spirit world. By carrying the fire, his ancestors put into his whole being a message from the spiritual world. 

His journey as a Frontrunner began a spiritual journey that would span the rest of his life. Elder Courchene began to learn more about the message he was carrying and great responsibility he had been given as a Frontrunner, walking in the footsteps of his ancestors to find and live his own vision and purpose. He would learn that this message was inclusive and universal to all human beings.  He would learn that the fire that he was carrying held a message of the Seven Sacred Laws, values long held by the Anishinaabe that provide a foundation for all to live by.

In learning about the true power and meaning of the Sacred Fire, Elder Dave would eventually travel around the world lighting Sacred Fires to open doorways of spirit and share ancestral teachings and messages about connecting to Spirit and the Land.

   Elder Dr. Dave Courchene lights the flame during the 2017 Canada Games Opening Ceremonies in Winnipeg, Manitoba


Elder Dave began a foray into politics at a young age, mentored by his father. He had the opportunity to sit with leaders such as Harold Cardinal, Walter Dieter, and George Manuel, who would visit his father. At the age of 17, Dave was selected as a senior delegate for the Liberal Party, and in the 1970s during the preparation of Wahbung, Dave worked as Community Development Officer (CDO) for the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, where his role was to facilitate social change in response to concerns expressed by Community members in Manitoba First Nations Communities.  

The Elders

Elder Dave began to learn from the Elders of his People. Eventually, he would leave his role as Director of Education and devote himself full-time to learning from the Elders. His spiritual journey began with the Dakotas. He entered into a sweat lodge and eventually the Sundance. Elders such as Mary Hall, George Daniels, Don Daniels, Peter O’Chiese and others began to guide him in his journey, the purpose of which would be ultimately revealed to him in the Vision Quest Ceremony. 

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Elders and Knowledge Keepers gathered at the Turtle Lodge in September 2021 to discuss Climate Change and our survival


Grandmother Florence Paynter, Elder Dr. Harry Bone and Grandmother Mary Maytwayashing from the Anishinaabe Nation present Elder Courchene with a Certificate of Achievement in Honour of his Spiritual Names. 


Anishinaabe Grandmothers Mary Maytwayashing, Florence Paynter, and Martina Fisher look on during Honouring Ceremony for Elder Courchene.


Cree Elder AJ Felix and Anishinaabe Elder Harry Bone at the Honouring Ceremony for Elder Courchene. 

Vision of the Turtle Lodge

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Arial view of The Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness, Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba, Canada


Honouring Ceremony for Elder Courchene at the Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness, Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba, Canada

For the First Peoples of America, visions and dreams have always offered guidance in life and helped us remain connected to the Great Spirit and the land. Elder Dave has always believed in and followed his visions and dreams. 

Fasting many times on the land, Elder Dave received a vision of a Turtle Lodge and a Village of Peace. At the heart of the village was a lodge, built in the shape of a turtle. Surrounding the Turtle Lodge were four smaller turtle-shaped lodges in each of the four directions. People of every colour were coming out of these lodges and walking toward the central lodge. Animals (predominantly horses and buffalo), people in a garden, and Elders talking and laughing around a fire were seen. An eagle circled in the sky above. 

Through the vision, the Elders interpreted that humanity had been given the gift of a lodge of truth, which would bring healing, unity and peace to all nations and a deeper relationship with Mother Earth. The turtle was seen as a symbol of truth, and the central lodge symbolized the urgency for all Peoples to come together in the centre of Turtle Island. The four smaller lodges represented the balance of life. In his vision, it was revealed that the first Turtle Lodge would give birth to other Turtle Lodges around the world. 

The people working in the gardens reflected that our survival is connected to the land. The sacred fire represented the entrance for our ancestors to come and give us guidance and direction, and how important it is to remain connected to our ancestral way of life.  The eagle flying in the sky was a sign of the Great Spirit’s blessing of the vision, and also, how important vision is in finding hope for the future and offering direction and meaning in life. The horses and buffalo were there to show how we are to connect with nature for our survival. 

Over the years, Elder Dave would receive visions that led him to reintroduce Ceremonies like the Sundance, Ghost Dance, Ogichita Dance, and Contrary Dance. For one whole year, he spent every night at the Sacred Fire receiving teachings from his ancestors. He set up and moved his family to two camps on the land, where he began to train young people how to follow the ancestral way of life. Over the years he also hosted many “Voices of Tomorrow” Youth Gatherings in different First Nation communities to share Ceremony and teachings to inspire youth to find their true spiritual identity. 

In February 2002 Dave made a public call of support for the Turtle Lodge, in fulfillment of his vision. A week later ten young people showed up at his door ready to work. 

Many answered his call to help build the Turtle Lodge in 2002. After many years of chasing the money, which he felt would be needed to build his dream, Elder Courchene was reminded in a fast that his ancestors did not have money to build their lodges. That winter 1000 logs were harvested from Sagkeeng. Dave marked the area out with a piece of string, and so it began.  Relying on a core group of three young men from Sagkeeng and Peguis. The head man, Henry (Chopper) Guimond, relied on his dreams and his gift for building. A dedicated team of Mohawk ironworkers, guys who had helped out at 9-11, traveled that summer from Akwesasne and spent two months in Sagkeeng to lay the foundation of the Lodge.   

As Turtle Lodge construction began, more people started coming to help.  From First Nations across the country and around the world, people volunteered their time and gifts to the building of the Lodge. 16 large pine logs brought in from Eagle Lake, Ontario, became the front pillars, a large mounted black bear arrived from Mi’kmaw territory on East Coast, and many others contributed building materials, artwork and sacred items that became part of the Lodge.  The Turtle Lodge officially opened with a Ceremony in the spring of 2003. 

The Turtle Lodge is founded upon spiritual, land-based teachings that bring balance to life, with the fundamental goal and vision of Mino-Pi-Mati-Si-Win – A Good and Peaceful Way of Life. Mino-Pi-Mati-Si-Win is about seeing, listening, feeling, speaking, and acting from the heart. Every Ceremony, Gathering, Meeting, and Event at the Turtle Lodge begins with a Pipe Ceremony in a Ceremonial context. The guidance and direction of Spirit underpins the vision and work of Elder Courchene and the Lodge. 

Honouring Grandmother Orianna Courchene (Anishinaabe Nation)

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The Late Wife of Elder Courchene, Mrs. Orianna Courchene – Piitaypenehsii Kwe (Sound of an Eagle Coming)

In addition to Elder Courchene, the National Elder Council honours and recognizes his late wife, Mrs. Orianna Courchene – Piitaypenehsii Kwe (Sound of an Eagle Coming) for her commitment, support, and sacrifice toward the vision of the Turtle Lodge.  

The late Grandmother Orianna Courchene was the matriarch of her large family, and it was through her great support and efforts that the vision of the Turtle Lodge was able to become a reality. She shared her teachings and example with many children, youth, women, and men over the years. Her work included leading the Mother Earth Lodge for healing and teaching women. The National Council honours Grandmother Courchene for her enormous commitment to the beautiful Anishinaabe way of life. 

National Turtle Lodge Council of Elders and Knowledge Keepers

Over the years, the Turtle Lodge has developed a National Knowledge Keepers Council, chaired by Elder Courchene.  This network of highly respected Indigenous Elders and leaders hail from diverse Nations across the country.  Knowledge Keepers are grounded in their communities, fluent in their original languages, rooted in the land, traditions, ceremonies, and teachings of their People.  They are individuals who have worked and studied a lifetime in the ceremonies, earning the knowledge that they now share willingly with young people of all cultures. The Knowledge Keepers are the teachers and Elder mentors of the Turtle Lodge, providing wisdom and guidance rooted in ceremonial tradition. 

The National Turtle Lodge Council of Elders and Knowledge Keepers includes:

David Courchene, Jr. (Anishinaabe)Mary Maytwayashing (Anishinaabe)
Inka Antaurko (Inca)Robert Maytwayashing (Anishinaabe)
Stephen Augustine (Mi’kmaw)Jane Meader (Mi’kmaw) 
Harry Bone, C.M., LL.D. (Anishinaabe)Florence Paynter (Anishinaabe)
Darrell Bob (St’at’imc)Ed Sackaney (Cree)
AJ Felix (Cree)Winston Walkingbear (Cree)
Stephen Kakfwi (Dene)Barney Williams (Tia-o-qui-aht)
Betty Ann Little Wolf (Piikani)Allan White (Anishinaabe)
Morris Little Wolf (Piikani)Katherine Whitecloud (Dakota)

At the Turtle Lodge 

The Turtle Lodge welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds to attend their gatherings.   A priority is placed on healing, reconnecting to the Earth and one’s own spiritual identity rooted in the Seven Sacred Laws of Respect (the Buffalo), Love (the Eagle), Courage (the Bear), Honesty (the Sabe or Bigfoot), Wisdom (the Beaver), Humility (the Wolf), and Truth (the Turtle).  

The Elders say that whenever you enter the Turtle Lodge, you are entering into the Grandmother Turtle herself, and you leave transformed in some way. 

Guided by Ceremony and the Elders, Dave has hosted many Ceremonies and events at the Turtle Lodge, including seasonal Ceremonial gatherings and fasts, language camps, youth rites of passage Ceremonies, land-based activities such as medicine picking, community Ceremonies to heal from addictions, and youth mentorship opportunities for young people to learn Sacred teachings from the Elders and Knowledge Keepers. The Turtle Lodge also hosts monthly full moon Ceremonies and an Annual Igniting the Fire gathering of Elders and Knowledge Keepers from across the Americas.  

In 2018, Traditional Elders from across Great Turtle Island and Abya Yala (North, Central, and South America) named Turtle Lodge their Central House of Knowledge as traditional leaders of their Nations and Peoples. 

The Rites of Passage teachings and Ceremonies are integral to Anishinaabe life and the mission and work of the Turtle Lodge. Typically held in spring, Vision Quest and Makoose Ka Win Rites of Passage, for young boys and girls respectively, involve a personal commitment and journey to discovering one’s spiritual identity, purpose, gifts, and responsibilities. 

The Turtle Lodge, as a place for sharing universal and ancient knowledge, reconnecting to the earth and nature, and sharing among people of all Nations, has hosted events on Indigenous education, wellness, climate change, pandemics, racism, connecting to the land, and spirituality.  

Among these were international Onjisay Aki “The Earth is Changing” Climate Summits with Elders, scientists and youth, Roundtables Supporting Ancient Indigenous Knowledge, gatherings with international genocide scholars to heal divisions and work toward peace, educational forums with the Federal Court of Canada, Nationhood Gatherings, and the Annual Igniting the Fire Gathering at the Sacred Site of Manitou Api, that reintroduced the leadership and mentorship role of the Elders. Through these events, the Lodge has gained a large network of partners and collaborators who offer their support in the spirit of partnership for its ongoing work. 

The core message and spiritual leadership provided by Elder Courchene and the Knowledge Keepers has been about teaching our children to connect with their spirit, connect with the Earth, and about the spiritual and natural laws that will enable them to survive the coming Earth changes. This knowledge is so critical and necessary to inspire the hope and change needed given the current times and challenges we are facing as humanity.  

In 2018, Traditional Elders from across Great Turtle Island and Abya Yala (North, Central, and South America) named Turtle Lodge their Central House of Knowledge as traditional leaders of their Nations and Peoples. 

Carrying the Legacy and Vision of Turtle Lodge Forward

The National Council is not only honouring Elder Dr. Courchene for his lifetime of leadership and achievements, but also for his vision. They invite you to join in making a commitment to continue his legacy and by following the vision he shares with us. 

Guided by our ceremonies and endorsed by the Elders at numerous gatherings, Elder Courchene is working towards the construction of a new Turtle Lodge at the Manitou Api Sacred Site, located at the geographical heart and centre of Turtle Island.  

Manitou Api is a place where many Nations from across the Americas have gathered for tens of thousands of years for spiritual renewal and sharing. The Creation Story of Anishinaabe People tells of the first human being lowered in spirit through Pagonay Giizhik, the hole in the sky, at this Sacred Site.  

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“The Sacred ancient space of Manitou Api must become an autonomous place. Protected and oriented towards a worldview rooted in this place of origin. It is freed from the structure of state and its intentions. A free space devoted to Mother Earth, her people and the mythologies presenting Truth. The cosmos and the Earth make contact by way of the stars. The proposed Turtle Lodge mediates the cosmologic and terrestrial realms” – Sotirious Koutoulas

Throughout the years, the Turtle Lodge has led journeys to Manitou Api to inspire connection with Mother Earth and revitalize spiritual ceremonies that our ancestors performed for tens of thousands of years.  The Elders believe that coming together to create this Turtle Lodge at the heart of the continent will help lead humanity back to understanding our true relationship with Mother Earth, a Great Living Being who is the source of our physical life as human beings, a spiritual intelligence who offers guidance directly to our heart, on how to live with values of kindness, taking care of our Mother and the life we are given. 

“The spirit is what takes you within yourself to give you your identity. The earth is what gives you meaning.” – Dave Courchene

We believe that building a Turtle Lodge at Manitou Api will unite the Nations and bring our prophecies to fulfilment. Our prophecies share that other races of humankind would arrive on Turtle Island, to learn from the leadership of the Indigenous Peoples how to take care of Mother Earth, and each other. Our work through this Turtle Lodge will be for our collective survival as the human family, based on values. Building this Lodge will require great faith, commitment, and all of us working together from the heart to offer our support and gifts. We invite you to kindly consider ways and means in which you might support this vision. 

Kinanaakomigo – From our hearts we thank you.  

Knowledge Keeper David Courchene III Speaks during the Honouring Ceremony for his Father, Elder Courchene.
Singers sounding the Sacred Drum during the Honouring Ceremony for Elder Courchene, representing the Heartbeat of Mother Earth. 
Grandmother and young women helpers sing the Water Song during the Water Ceremony. 
Kinew – Eagle, looks on during the Honouring Ceremony for Elder Courchene
Anishinaabe Grandmothers Martina Fisher and Burma Bushie present Elder Courchene with a gift on behalf of the Giigewigamig Elders Council and Giigewigamig First Nation Health Authority. 
Elder Courchene with Turtle Lodge Helper and Filmmaker Erica Daniels and her Daughter Serenity during the Honouring Ceremony.

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