Eagle feathers now an option for swearing legal oaths in N.S. RCMP detachments

RCMP detachments in Nova Scotia are the first in Canada to allow people to swear a legal oath on eagle feathers rather than a Bible.

'If you hold an eagle feather up to the sun, you will see every colour of the rainbow'

Keptin Donald Julien and RCMP Cmdr. Brian Brennan shake hands at the eagle feather ceremonial event on Monday in Dartmouth, N.S. (CBC)

RCMP detachments in Nova Scotia are the first in Canada to allow people to swear a legal oath on eagle feathers rather than a Bible. 

On Monday, a ceremony was held at RCMP provincial headquarters in Dartmouth to introduce eagle feathers as an alternative for Indigenous people — witnesses, victims, accused and police officers.

The eagle feather is a symbol of spirituality in First Nations culture because it flies highest and closest to the Creator. Eagle feathers are frequently used in sacred ceremonies throughout North America.

"It gives us a big sense of pride, a good feeling for using our eagle feather, for people to swear or make oaths," said  Keptin Donald Julien, executive director of the Confederacy of Manland Mi'kmaq.

A display of eagle feathers at a ceremony Monday at the provincial RCMP headquarters. (CBC)

It's a practice both Mi' kmaq and RCMP leaders hope will spread across the country. Nova Scotia's court system also hopes to implement the practice in November. 

"It's a big honour for our people and I sure hope that across Canada, they do the same thing. We are all brothers and sisters, from one end of the country to the other," said Julien, who gave a blessing at the ceremony.

Julien, executive director of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, gave a blessing during Monday's ceremony. (CBC)

That wish was echoed by Cmdr. Brian Brennan, commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP.

"The eagle feather represents positivity and this is what we are hoping will come out of the ceremony today, not just for the communities, but for our province and eventually across the country," he said.

"We are confident the initiative, undertaken and started here in Nova Scotia, will spread through the RCMP and the communities we police, that would also be adopted by other police departments, other judiciaries across the country. It's occasions like this that we can truly make a mark on reconciliation."

Brennan said he hopes to see the eagle feather used as an oath-swearing option across Canada. (CBC)

Also Monday, the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls took place at the First Nations community of Membertou, N.S.

It's the first time the inquiry has been held on the east coast of Canada and opened with the families of Loretta Saunders and Tanya Brooks, two Indigenous women murdered in the province.

Said Brennan: "Reconciliation is not just one act. It is many acts built one on top of the other and it's a demonstration of cultural respect and sensitivity."

The eagle feather featured at Monday's event was part of a smudging ceremony. (CBC)

The event also included a smudging ceremony, a cleansing act of burning sweetgrass, a tradition used to carry away negativity on its smoke.

Clifford Paul of Membertou First Nation described the significance of the eagle feather as a sacred, spiritual icon.

"If you hold an eagle feather up to the sun, you will see every colour of the rainbow and the dominant colour is gold," Paul said.

"In our communities, for Aboriginal people, the eagle is the messenger in our world. The eagle carries not just the burden, but the love of our messages."

Clifford Paul of Membertou First Nation, N.S., speaks about the spiritual significance of eagle feathers to Indigenous people. (CBC)

He added that he saw more than 40 eagles while travelling to Halifax Monday via the Canso Causeway, which connects the Nova Scotia peninsula to Cape Breton Island.

"It is the time of year where they gather, get some food before the winter  It's always an honour when the eagle shows itself," he said.

In 2012, Ontario courts began allowing people to use eagle feathers to swear they are telling the truth. The move was made to provide a more inclusive justice system for Indigenous people.

While First Nations people make up about four per cent of Canada's population, more than a quarter of inmates in Canadian prisons are Indigenous.

With files from Blair Rhodes