Introduction of sacred eagle feathers into Manitoba courts called a historic moment

Indigenous people will soon be able to give their testimony in Manitoba courts after swearing their oath on an eagle feather.

Witnesses will be able to hold feathers when swearing oaths and testifying

Indigenous elder Ed Azure speaks of the importance of incorporating eagle feathers when oaths are affirmed in Manitoba's court system at a sunrise ceremony in Winnipeg. Michael Pierre stands with him. (John Einarson/CBC)

Indigenous people will soon be able to give their testimony in Manitoba courts after swearing their oath on an eagle feather. 

A ceremony to mark the introduction of eagle feathers into every provincial courtroom was held Thursday morning at the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks in Winnipeg.

The feathers were blessed at a sunrise ceremony, featuring smudging and a prayer. 

"This is a historical moment for us, to see our way of life being accepted into the courts like this," said Michael Pierre, who works with the Indigenous spiritual caregivers at Manitoba Justice.

The eagle reminds Indigenous people to love all creation, and the feather shows the path they should walk, he said.

"The work that we do in the correctional centres, we know the value and the hard work that comes from bringing these feathers, and to see that into the court system, it fills my heart with joy," Pierre said.

The eagle feathers are laid out during a presentation at the Law Courts building in Winnipeg. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

People can swear or affirm affidavits using an eagle feather — rather than swearing on the Bible — or they can hold one while giving testimony. 

Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said the provincial court system is accepting the 40 feathers with humility.

"It's important, ladies and gentlemen, to the work of the courts that all Manitobans have confidence in the justice system," he said. 

"The presence of the eagle feather in the courtroom, and at the court counter, will provide Indigenous and Aboriginal Manitobans with confidence that they will be heard and that they deserve to have their culture and beliefs recognized, respected and accepted with renewal."

The ceremony was witnessed by Indigenous elders, pipe carriers and warriors, as well as provincial justices.

A formal presentation of the eagle feathers to the courts was scheduled for later Thursday at the Law Courts building in downtown Winnipeg.

Justice Lore Mirwaldt, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas and Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal gather after the ceremony to bless the feathers. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson, Heather Wells and Ian Froese