June 6, 1932 – September 29, 2009
Norbert Thomas (Tom) Eagle was born on June 6, 1932 at Ohskaning (Waterhen) Ojibway First Nation in Manitoba and passed into the Spirit World on September 29, 2009.
Tom is survived by his loving wife Muriel of 54 years; his daughters Bertha of Edmonton, Eleanor (Robert) of Lucca, Italy and Margaret (Terry) of Peace River; his sons Brian and Raymond of Yellowknife. Tom is also remembered by his brother Jim (Cecilia) and Gilbert as well as his sister Rita and many nieces, nephews and cousins from across Canada. He is lovingly remembered by his 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
At the age of 19, Tom enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces. He served two tours of military duty with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in West Germany and the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.
In 1971, Tom was selected by the Canadian Armed Forces to transfer to Yellowknife. Jumping at the opportunity, Tom accepted and moved his family to Yellowknife where he was to have a profound affect over the city and the Northwest Territories for the next 38 years. He was best known locally for his involvement with the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre where he was the Executive Director twice from 1979 to 1984 and again from 1986 to 2002. He dedicated a great portion of his time to the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre activities from the staff to Senate level and especially to realizing his vision of the current facility.
Tom also served as Chairperson for the NWT/NU Council of Friendship Centres and was instrumental in the development of Friendship Centres across the north in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Fort Providence, Rankin Inlet and Fort Rae.
With the transfer to Yellowknife, one of Tom’s military responsibilities was to establish Cadet Units in Iqaluit, Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Inuvik and Whitehorse, Yukon. During his military career, Tom occupied many positions as an instructor, administrator, manager, supervisor and communications. These responsibilities were discharged without supervision. Accordingly, the military provided Tom with an abundance of schooling in leadership and management.
After 25 years of service, Tom retired from the military with the rank of Sergeant. Having found his “home” in Yellowknife, he embarked on a civilian journey – never forgetting his military background.
Tom worked for Commissioner Stu Hodgson for five years, enjoying the work and extensive travel throughout the north. Tom fondly remembered working for Commission Hodgson, not because of the work itself, but because it gave him an opportunity to visit every community across the Arctic. He established numerous friendships, including most of the Aboriginal leaders today.
Mr. Eagle also worked for the Government of NWT for several years. His accomplishments included helping set up the NWT Housing Corporation, assisting with the political development of the First Nations’ and Metis people and helping youth to become organized.
Spanning over 40 years, Tom was best known for his community work. He was never too busy to lend a hand. Most recently, he served as Chair of the NWT/Nunavut Aboriginal Veterans Association; President of the NWT/Nunavut branch of the Army Cadet League of Canada, member of the Royal Canadian Legion and he chaired the First Nations Veterans Association of Canada.
Other organizations he volunteered his time included the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC), MacKenzie Valley Housing Corporation, Yellowknife Little League Baseball, Yellowknife Commercial Hockey League, NWT Youth Association, the Kinew Housing Corporation in Winnipeg, the City of Winnipeg Urban Renewal Citizens Committee, Manitoba Metis Federation, the Manitoba Association of Native Youth and the Winnipeg Indian & Metis Friendship Centre.
Tom received recognition and many awards for his community work. In 2007, he was awarded the Veteran Affairs Commendation and appointed a Life Time Member of the Cadet League of Canada. He received a citation from the Government of Canada for Citizenship for his contribution towards community work (1990) and was appointed by the Federal Government’s Privy Council as the first Citizenship Judge for the NWT. He also received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (1976) and the Canadian Forces Decoration (1963).
Before retiring from the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre in 2002, one outstanding goal remained. Tom convinced the City of Yellowknife to set aside land on 49th Street so the Friendship Centre could be re-built into a bigger facility. He was also behind the push to rename 49th Avenue by city hall and the Joint Task Force North headquarters as Veterans Memorial Drive which was accomplished in 2005.
Tom’s involvement with Veterans much like his work with Friendship Centres was vast. He fought long and hard over the years for recognition of the contributions and sacrifices made by Aboriginal veterans. In 2006, he called upon the Federal Government to apologize for the discriminatory treatment endured by Aboriginal soldiers returning home from war.
Tom and his wife Muriel joined Aboriginal veterans and their families on a journey to France and Belgium to call home the spirits of Aboriginal people who made the ultimate sacrifice in the First and Second World Wars.
For those that had the divine blessing of meeting and knowing Tom, we will always remember him for his story telling and conversation skills. He enjoyed meeting people and listening to their stories. Through his travels, work, volunteer activities and family, Tom forged many long lasting friendships and will be forever missed. He was a devoted husband, father, warrior, leader, Elder and friend. We will miss him dearly.