Eagle feathers now on hand for oaths at Ottawa courthouse
Including indigenous symbols 'validating the importance of our culture, our spirituality,' says elder
People testifying at the Ottawa courthouse will now have the option of swearing an oath with their hand on an eagle feather to affirm they're telling the truth.
Indigenous elders and justice workers presented court staff with two eagle feathers for use in legal proceedings during a special ceremony today at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre.
Greg Meekis, Odawa's aboriginal community justice coordinator, first reached out to court staff last summer when he heard of an indigenous client who requested to swear on a feather instead of a bible before testifying, only to be told there was none.
The eagle is a significant spiritual figure in many indigenous cultures, and eagle feathers are considered sacred items that are used in ceremonies.
In recent years, courts across Ontario have introduced them to make the legal process more inclusive and culturally relevant to indigenous people.
"I think it's gonna be based on trust," added Meekis. "I think that's the big thing, where the court is willing to entrust some of our culture, in terms of their process in the system. I think that will be a good start. And any person that would request that feather, we can assume that they carry those teachings."
'It's validating the importance of our culture'
Algonquin elder and lawyer Claudette Commanda handed over the feathers to courthouse representatives following traditional teachings on their significance.
Both Meekis and Commanda have offered to liaise with courthouse staff going forward on how to keep and care for the feathers.
Commanda feels encouraged by what she calls a "tremendous" move by local justice officials and the indigenous community.
"This is a beginning, and the door's open," said Commanda. "Look at the justice system that's opening a door to provide room and space for our ancestral knowledge."