Elder Martin Eagle Child places the headdress on Fr. Jim. Terry Lusty
Fr. Jim is flanked (left to right) by Elders Terry Lusty, Gilman Cardinal, John McDonald, and Myrtle Calahaisn. Bonnie Bellhumeur
In a ceremony generally reserved for heads of state, political leaders, and individuals of great importance, an eagle feather headdress was ceremoniously transferred from Kainai Elder Martin Eagle Child to Fr. Jim, as he is affectionately called, after the 11:30 a.m. mass on October 2 at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples where he has been parish priest for more than 20 years.
For Fr. Jim, it is the second significant honour bestowed to him this year. Earlier in 2016, a two-block stretch of 108A Avenue that borders the church between 95 and 97 Street was named Fr. Jim Holland Way in tribute to his longstanding service and dedication to the community in the McCauley area, immediately northeast of downtown Edmonton.
The former owner and transferrer of the headdress, Martin Eagle Child, from the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta, had pondered for some time as to whom he might honour with the headdress. After all, it couldn’t just go to anyone. Upon giving it considerable thought and time, he ultimately settled on presenting it to a man he had met and befriended some years ago, a man who, over the years, exhibited great compassion and performed numerous good deeds for the betterment of his community, especially those of Aboriginal background. In his estimation, Fr. Jim was, indeed, a prime candidate for such recognition. After all, one doesn’t gift a person with one of the highest honours from First Nations people unless they’ve done great things.
Eagle Child announced Fr. Jim’s long and outstanding service, including the long hours he put in, often for days at a stretch before moving on to still other tasks. Things like preparations and facilitating at weddings, funerals, baptisms, children’s Christmas concerts, one-to-one personal counseling, occasional free meals for hundreds at a time, and so much more.
Paul Vanderham, the emcee for the event, informed the 100 or so people in attendance that Fr. Jim originally hailed from a Baptist family in North Carolina before trekking north to Montreal where he joined the Franciscan order, then relocated to Edmonton where he was ordained a Catholic priest with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
In procedural sequence, Eagle Child sat Fr. Jim down a few feet away from him and faced him. He then informed the priest of why he was being honoured and the process that was to transpire over the following half-hour or so. One of the first duties he performed was to paint Fr. Jim’s face, one of the required elements of the ceremony.
Things were then turned over to Air Force veteran John McDonald who recalled four brave events he was a part of while on military duty, facing each of the four cardinal directions with each story. Once that was out of the way, he and Eagle Child took Fr. Jim by the arms and danced him around the Inner Circle of about 40 church seniors and Elders. Behind them were another 50 or 60 people seated in theatre fashion.
Eagle Child, flanked on his right by Elders Terry Lusty (myself) and Gilman Cardinal and on his left, by John McDonald and Myrtle Calahaisn, offered up prayers, then transferred the headdress from his hands to the head of Fr. Jim, amid whoops and hollers and female trilling to signify the important occasion.
Elder Gilman Cardinal followed up with a naming ceremony in which he bestowed the priest with the name Napew ka mio tee heet, or “Man with Good Heart.”
A mini Round Dance capped the ceremony in which all were invited to participate. Once concluded, Fr. Jim was kind enough to make himself available to the many wanting to photograph him with his headdress and painted face.
It was, indeed, a magic moment for Fr. Jim Holland, certainly one he’ll treasure proudly for the duration of his life.
Terry is a former resident of McCauley and an Elder at Sacred Heart Church.