Elder Dr. Dave Courchene — Nii Gaani Aki Innini (Leading Earth Man) — is a respected elder and knowledge keeper of the Anishinaabe Nation who has 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 has had a global influence.
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 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 has 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 is 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 is rooted in generosity, kindness, and a desire for peace and sustainability.
Elder Dr. Courchene is 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. His recent work has involved initiating international roundtables supporting Indigenous Knowledge, conducting the opening ceremonies at the 2010 G8 Summit on World Religions and 2017 Canada Games, and he is currently initiating a series of Indigenous knowledge-based video vignettes for the Manitoba 150. 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, Elder Dr. Courchene has played a vital role in promoting peace, cultural understanding, and environmental sustainability, both nationally and globally.