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Eagle feather at Lethbridge court will help all 'be honest' their own way, co-ordinator says

An eagle feather is a symbol of change at the Lethbridge Courthouse. When people are asked to swear to tell the truth in court, they can now do so on a blessed eagle feather.

Blessed spiritual item is one of several steps justice officials are taking toward reconciliation

People can now swear an oath on an eagle feather. Tony Delaney says it will encourage people to be truthful with an alternative to religious texts such as the Bible or Koran. (Lara Fominoff/Lethbridge News Now)

An eagle feather at the Lethbridge Courthouse will help all testifying stay true to their culture and tell the truth, the co-ordinator of an Indigenous justice program says.

When testifying in court, a person is asked to promise to tell the truth. Many swear on religious texts such as the Bible or the Qur'an.

In Lethbridge, Alta., people will now be able to swear that oath on an eagle feather, an important symbol to many Indigenous people. 

For Tony Delaney, it's recognition of his spirituality and culture that long has been treated as inferior.

"No one should be able to look at our traditional ways as less than their beliefs, because the way that we did it is the way that we've been doing our ceremonies for thousands of years," Delaney told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"I know from my relationship … to my higher power that this is not just an eagle feather, that it was blessed and that I'm going to have to tell the truth and be honest."

Delaney is the co-ordinator of the Kainai Peacemaking Program, which assists accused people, offenders, victims and court staff in the justice system by following traditional Blackfoot practices.

He said he believes people were being honest, and a few may not have been, before the change, but using the eagle feather will be meaningful for many who follow traditional practices and not religions, such as Christianity or Islam.

Representing Indigenous people

Lately, Delaney has been working on incorporating new practices to encourage reconciliation in the Lethbridge Courthouse, where he's worked for about a decade.

"Since contact and since courts have been built in this country, there hasn't been anything to symbolize Indigenous people and especially in southern Alberta, the traditional area," said Delaney, who lives on the Blood (Kainai) First Nation.

The feather was gifted to the court after a ceremony with smudging. Since then, Delaney said he's heard from people who say the change has made them feel all the more proud to be Indigenous.

The Kainai Peacemaking Program held a ceremony with court officials to gift the eagle feather. Here, Tony Delaney is speaking. (Lethbridge Courthouse)

The idea of the feather came to him after a judge asked him if anything had changed in the 10 years he'd worked at the court.

Delaney told the judge a majority of the people on the docket are still Indigenous, and so little has changed — even the furniture and the chairs are the same.

"He started laughing and he said, 'What do you think we could do that's different here?' And I told him, 'why don't we smudge?'" Delaney said.

Recently, the court also held a sweat with judges, Crown prosecutors and court clerks. They've also smudged at the provincial court in Cardston.

Across Canada, a few other courts offer an eagle feather as an option to swear an oath, including in Ottawa and Nova Scotia, which added the practice this month.

Delaney said other courts in southern Alberta are expected to start using feathers over the coming months depending on when the ceremonies can be arranged.

With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener