The late Nii Gaani Aki Inini, Elder Dr. Dave Courchene, Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan

Turtle Lodge Founder and Knowledge Keeper

January 30th 1950 – December 8th 2021

Elder Dr. Dave Courchene — Nii Gaani Aki Innini (Leading Earth Man) — was a respected Elder and Knowledge Keeper of the Anishinaabe Nation who devoted his life to sharing Indigenous knowledge, carrying a message of hope, peace and environmental stewardship. From lighting the sacred fire at the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992, to sharing the stage with spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, Elder Dr. Courchene’s leadership had a global influence. His impact and legacy lives on today through those who were fortunate to hear his voice and the messages and teachings he so willingly shared with all people throughout his life.

In 2002, he founded the Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness, a sacred lodge recognized internationally and by the Assembly of First Nations and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs as one of the most important gathering places for Indigenous peoples in Canada. Individuals from around the world continue to gather at the Turtle Lodge to facilitate intergenerational knowledge sharing, language revitalization, youth leadership training, and environmental solutions to climate change.

Considered a trailblazer, Courchene built alliances with institutions, academics, and policy makers across the country. His work has been recognized with many prestigious honours, including the INDSPIRE National Aboriginal Achievement Award in Culture, Heritage, and Spirituality; an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Winnipeg, the Volunteer Manitoba Award for Outstanding Community Leadership; the International Award of Excellence; the Aboriginal Circle of Educators Award; and the International Indigenous Leadership Award.

He was a deeply respected Elder, known for his ability to inspire dialogue and cross-cultural understanding between Indigenous knowledge keepers and western-trained scientists. His leadership was rooted in generosity, kindness, and a desire for peace and sustainability.

Elder Dr. Courchene was an active collaborator with a number of universities, and his knowledge has inspired notable figures and institutions — from ministers to federal judges and media to museums — to consider Indigenous teachings and make a collective commitment to future generations.

He was a founding Elder of the Giigewigamig (pronounced Kee-gay-ga-mik) Traditional Healing Centre at the Pine Falls Hospital, which is independently managed by Elders from the Sagkeeng, Black River, Hollow Water and Bloodvein First Nations. Throughout his life, Elder Dr. Courchene played a vital role in promoting peace, cultural understanding, and environmental sustainability, both nationally and globally.

Elder Dr. Courchene entrusted his son, Knowledge Keeper David Courchene III (Sabe) to continue the leadership and work of the Turtle Lodge. Sabe has made the commitment, in honour of his late Father’s wishes, to continue the Vision of the Turtle Lodge and to help lead the Ceremonies and work of the Lodge alongside the National Turtle Lodge Council of Elders and Knowledge Keepers.

Please watch this video to hear more of Dave’s Story and Message

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