Handshake of trust and goodwill: “A man’s word was his bond”

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 24, 2016

An important Stoney Nakoda symbol that appears on the First Nation’s flag and literature is of a handshake of trust in the presence of a sacred pipe within a feathered circle that speaks of the wholeness of life. Image supplied

Our coffee companion Stu Bradley sat down with me at the Cochrane A&W this week and enriched me with a lesson about a value of the Old West that is fundamental to living together peacefully.

Stu is known throughout Alberta as a facilitator of western heritage exhibits, cattle drives, and all-around goodwill. One of his more noteworthy achievements was his vision for the Cowboy Trail. The so-named 735 km stretch of Highway 22 from Mayerthorpe in the north to Cardston in the south weaves together the richness of our foothills ranching and First Nations ways of life.

Over our morning coffee we got to talking about the importance of people saying what they mean and meaning what they say.

“That’s what the handshake is all about,” he said. Ranchers would seal the sale of cattle and ranchland with nothing more formal than a handshake at the gate, even multi-million dollar agreements. Nothing written, no lawyers, just a solid handshake.

“A man’s word was his bond,” Stu said. It was all about trust, honour and respect.

Such a view of community reminds me of the symbol of the handshake on the flag of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. The handshake is between a Stoney and a non-aboriginal person. It is embraced by a circle, reflecting the wholeness of life. A pipe enters into that circle of wholeness to affirm the sacredness of the handshake. This is all about a trust-based relationship that respects our journey together in the land we share.

Yes, trust. This is what allows life to proceed in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect.

Sadly, too often it seems we have sacrificed that kind of community-building integrity for personal advantage at the expense of the greater circle of life. Our words take one trail, and our actions another. Handshakes of trust and honour are conveniently forgotten.

So, whenever we see the Stoney Nakoda flag, let it be a reminder of that fundamental value of which Stu spoke: a person’s word is their bond, sealed with a handshake of trust and goodwill.


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page