RCMP detachments and provincial courts in Nova Scotia will soon be providing indigenous victims, witnesses, suspects and police officers with the option to swear legal oaths on an eagle feather.
The feather will be used in the same way as a Bible or an affirmation. Those testifying in court or signing statements would hold their hand on the eagle feather while swearing an oath to tell the truth.
"To many First Nations people, when you give them a Bible, it doesn't mean anything," says RCMP Cpl. De-Anne Sack, Nova Scotia's Aboriginal policing analyst who came up with the idea. "But if you give them an eagle feather, it carries more significance, power and clout."
In First Nations culture, the eagle is considered sacred because it flies the highest and closest to the Creator. The eagle feather is a symbol of spirituality and is used in many indigenous traditions throughout North America.
"It provides a chance to introduce our culture and spirituality into the current justice system," says Catherine Benton, the first Mi'kmaq, female Aboriginal judge in Nova Scotia. "This will help begin the process of providing a more inclusive and relevant justice system for First Nations peoples."
After proposing the eagle feather to Nova Scotia's courts, Sack thought it would also be useful at the detachment level for police officers affirming documents such as affidavits, summons to court and subpoenas. The feather could also be on-hand for indigenous victims and suspects who give sworn statements at RCMP detachments.
"One of our goals in providing the eagle feather as an option is to bring more indigenous cultural awareness to the force," says C/Supt. Marlene Snowman, the Criminal Operations officer in Nova Scotia. "I hope it will demonstrate to our indigenous employees that we value their culture and show that it has a place within the RCMP."
The eagle feathers are expected to be distributed in October to 13 detachments in Nova Scotia that police indigenous communities.
"As an Aboriginal member, I would feel pride going to a detachment and opting for the eagle feather," says Sack. "We're one step closer to bridging First Nations communities and the RCMP."