Editor's note: Martin Tyner runs a wildlife rescue operation headquartered in Cedar City, Utah, called the Southwest Wildlife Foundation (www.gowildlife.org). It is a non-profit organization that works to rehabilitate injured animals and return them to the wild. Martin also makes educational presentations around the region. He specializes in raptors and cares for a small number of birds that cannot be returned to the wild.
Martin spoke at a meeting I attended, and he showed a hawk, an owl and his golden eagle. He told the story below. This story also appears in his book, Healer of Angels. Proceeds from book sales go to support the non-profit foundation.
Healer of Angels
By Martin Tyner
Blessings and Prayers
With the amazing gift from Utah Power of twenty-three acres of beautiful canyon property for the purpose of wildlife rescue and wildlife education, we felt it would be very appropriate to invite the community out for a property dedication ceremony.
Because this ground was once Paiute ground (the Paiutes are the native people of southern Utah), we wanted to invite the Paiute spiritual leader to come and assist us with our property dedication and blessing of the ground. We found this process to be a little more complicated than one would imagine, for the Paiute people tend to be a shy, quiet people with deep spiritual and cultural roots. They consider their religion, language and lifestyle to be sacred.
We asked and were given the opportunity to present our request before the Cedar Paiute Clan at their council meeting. We we told that they would let us know once the Council had made a decision.
When the word came back from the Council, we were told Mr. Clifford Jake, the Paiute spiritual leader, had been give permission from both the Cedar Clan and the Indian Peaks Clan to participate in blessing the ground. We were also told that because the Paiute people considered their language sacred, the blessing would be done as a prayer or a whisper. It was a tremendous honor to have Mr. Jake participate in the property dedication!
On the morning of November 11, 2000, we woke up to bright blue skies, temperatures hovering around zero and two feet of snow on the ground. It was unusually cold for the first part of November. We were afraid that few people, if anyone, would show up for the property dedication. Much to our surprise, approximately a hundred people from the community braved the bitter cold to share in what could only be described as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Jake arrived with his grandson. He stepped out of the pickup truck. He was a small, slender man in his eighties. With the help of his grandson, he walked through the snow to the area where the blessing was to be performed.
The crowd fell silent as they saw Mr. Jake approach. There was a great reverence, mixed with anticipation, as Mr. Jake spoke. He requested that we stand in a large circle and that the circle should open to the east, forming a large horseshoe. The ground in the center had been prepared by removing the snow so that the blessing could be done on bare ground.
Jake took his place in the center of the prayer circle. He carefully laid out a Native American blanket and set a small, wooden box; a small stoneware pot; and a juniper branch upon the blanket. He asked that no pictures or movies be taken, for the blessing was sacred. He asked his grandson to start the chant music and he bent down and opened the wooden box and removed from the box his eagle feathers.
The eagle feathers were fastened in the shape of a small fan. He picked up the small pot and the juniper branch and carefully lit the juniper branch, blew out the flame and set the smoking branch in the small pot that he held in his left hand. With the eagle feather fan that he held in his right hand, he would fan the smoke, and with absolute silence Mr. Jake began his prayers.
Once he finished his prayers he asked me to step forward into the prayer circle. As I approached, Mr. Jake asked me, "Is your eagle here today?"
I said, "Of course, Bud (my golden eagle), is with me."
He then asked, "Can you bring the eagle into the prayer circle?"
I brought my golden eagle to the center of the prayer circle, placed him on a perch and then stepped back.
As quickly as I stepped back, Mr. Jake began his prayers a second time, blessing the ground and blessing my eagle as well. I was later told that this was the first time in his eighty plus years that he had the opportunity to perform a blessing with a live eagle.
Mr. Jake requested that I enter the prayer circle a second time and as I approached he asked that I stand in his place and face the east. As I took his place in the center of the prayer circle, he moved to my left and began his prayers a third time, blessing the ground, blessing my eagle and blessing me as well.
This time, all of the words in the prayers were spoken in a voice loud enough so that I could hear the prayers. I was surprised and very honored that he would share his language with me, though I do not speak Paiute and could not understand the prayers.
When Mr. Jake finished his prayers he placed his hand on my shoulder and spent the next several minutes explaining to me what each of the prayers meant. He then left my side and quietly shook the hands of everyone in attendance. Just before he left, he asked if I would please come to his home.
Healer of Angels
When the dedication ceremony was over I felt drawn by Mr. Jake's invitation to visit his home. Though I have driven by his home on a number of occasions - he lives just a few blocks from me - I've never had the opportunity to sit down and visit with him for any length of time. As I pulled up to his house, his grandson met me at the door and very warmly invited me in.
As we sat down in the living room, Mr. Jake entered the room from the hallway and took his place on the couch next to me. He was pleased with the way the dedication ceremony had gone an appreciated the reverent way everyone responded. Then, Mr. Jake proceeded to tell me the story of the eagle.
He said, "To the Paiute people, the eagle was once human. The most noble and courageous of the native people was asked by the Great Spirit to come and sit in Council in Heaven.
"This noble and courageous brave answered the Great Spirit by saying, 'I cannot sit in Council in Heaven, because I cannot fly.' So the Great Spirit turned him into an eagle, and the eagle was given a calling.
"The eagle was to remain upon earth by night to collect all of the prayers from the People of the Nation, and then by day he was to ride the currents of warm rising air up to Heaven and deliver the prayers to the Great Spirit. He was then to receive all of the blessings from the Great Spirit and deliver those blessings to the People of the Nation."
Mr. Jake went on to say, "To a Paiute person, when they see an eagle flying overhead, they believe that eagle is one of the Great Eagles, and that the eagle is watching over them and their family personally, like a guardian angel."
When he finished the story I thought, what a wonderful explanation as to why the native people believe the eagle is sacred.
Mr. Jake then said, "In the Paiute culture, when you receive your first blessing, it is customary for you to receive a Paiute name." I'll be honest with you, I was a little nervous, I'm not really the "Dancing with Wolves" type. Though I have great love and respect for the Paiute people and their culture, I did not know what to expect as far as receiving a name.
The name that I was given was "Poown'hunt Kwuwnunts." The closest English translation for "Poown'hunt" would be "healer or spiritual doctor" and "Kwuwnunts" which means "eagle."
Mr. Jake then went on to explain that because of all of the eagles that I have cared for in my life and returned to the wild, and eagles are the guardian angels of the Paiute people, that I am to be know as "Healer of Eagles" or "Healer of Angels." He told me that I have a sacred calling to protect the ground of the nature center and that the ground is to remain sacred for the healing of angels and all of Utah's wildlife.
A few years later Mr. Jake passed away. At his funeral they spoke of Mr. Jake and how someday he will return as one of the Great Eagles to watch over the Paiute people. After the funeral was over. a very kind elderly Paiute woman approached me and asked," Tyner, if you ever have the opportunity to care for Clifford Jake, would you please let us know?"