Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mayor is now One Who Leads

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WHEN he woke up yesterday morning, Glen Murray was just the mayor of Winnipeg and adoptive son of parents of Ukrainian and Irish/Scottish ancestry. At lights out, he was Neegan Ish Kan, warrior, protector and spiritual member of the Bear Clan, his new adoptive family.

The sound of drumbeats filled the air and smoke cut the freezing afternoon breeze as Murray shivered and smiled his way through his official welcome to the clan. His new name -- which means One Who Leads -- is considered a tremendous honour by the aboriginal community. In front of a small and welcoming crowd on the grounds of the St. Norbert Behavioral Centre, three teepees in a half circle in front of him, the mayor was silent as elder Art Shofley explained why he was chosen.

"I have lived here for many years and I have not seen any mayor who took the time to welcome us into the city," said Shofley. "I have always loved this city. To me, this mayor and his council have welcomed my people into this city and told us we are valued.

"This man has courage. I have seen him under stress. He leads with courage, he leads with respect, he leads with strength."

Murray has officially accepted the responsibilities of the name, which include holding a feast at least once a year for the next four years to honour his friends and his new family. To his clear delight, he has entered into a sacred brotherhood -- along with some members of the RCMP, Winnipeg police and the military -- a claim few politicians can make.

Former Berkeley professor Joe Von Stein, who has trained many local aboriginal law-enforcement officers, was given the name Assinee-Ginew, which means Stone Eagle.

Now, it takes a whole lot of understanding for a ceremony such as this one to happen. The leaders of the Bear Clan don't hand out spirit names lightly, and Shofley explained that many hours of conversation are necessary to approve candidates and determine appropriate names. By the same token, it's hard to imagine many of Winnipeg's former mayors taking such obvious delight in watching a ceremony that included symbolic bears draped in fur take part in a traditional pipe ceremony. Even as Murray, dressed in a 2002 North American Aboriginal Games bomber jacket, was jiggling back and forth to keep warm, he was doing it to the omnipresent beat of the drums.

Indeed, Neegan Ish Kan in no way resembles the mayor whose voice shakes when he becomes angry or emotional, who is as quick to tear up as he is to laugh and whose enemies condemn him for what they perceive as a lashing impatience for dissension. This leader was calm and relaxed, deferring to Shofley and the whole assembly. At its end, he proffered simple gifts as part of a traditional gift-giving ceremony.

"I brought blankets, candles, toothbrushes, plastic food containers, books, coloured pens and pencils, notebooks and playing cards," said One Who Leads. "They should be practical gifts."

Other gifts offered to participants included pillows, giant cans of Folger's coffee, braids of sweetgrass, laundry detergent and candles.

It was a heady day for Murray.

"You have a huge responsibility not to bring shame on the name," said the new clan member. "It's an extraordinary experience. It is just such an honour."

There was more good news for Neegan Ish Kan.

"When you get a name it's like someone has put a protective shield around you," said Shofley. "The strength, the kindness comes through. It will enhance your life, your career."

No wonder One Who Leads smiled through the crisp afternoon.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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