Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Those taking or swearing an oath to tell the truth will now be able to do that holding an eagle feather at any Edmonton Police Service (EPS) divisional station.
The eagle feathers are being introduced today, June 21, which marks National Indigenous Peoples Day.
The eagle feather will also be a choice, along with the bible, Qur’an or affirmation/solemn declaration, provided to new police recruits at graduation ceremonies.
“Look around the police service. Look around the community. We come from all directions. We come from many places,” said retired Detective Eric Wilde, whose family is Cree from Desmarais in northern Alberta.
“That language that we’ve had for decades is not inclusive. By going down this road, we’ve actually made our service and our policies more inclusive of the community that we work with.”
Wilde spearheaded the movement in early January 2020 to include the eagle feather in EPS polices and procedures after Alberta courts introduced the eagle feather for the swearing of oaths on Nov. 8, 2019.
“When you talk about the eagle and you hold an eagle feather, you must speak your truth. And it should always be that you speak your truth if you know who you are. But speaking the truth with this is the most powerful thing you can do to honour that eagle spirit,” said Elder Betty Letendre.
Wilde brought the initiative forward to Chief Dale McFee and the EPS Leadership Team.
“(He) received overwhelming support to amend EPS policy to include the use of an eagle feather for the swearing of oaths,” read an EPS statement released today.
As eagles are a protected species, director Sue Cotterill with Alberta Fish and Wildlife helped obtain the eagle feathers.
Métis artisan Lisa Ladouceur added the beading, ribbons and sage to the feathers.
Ladouceur explained she beaded with red and blue to match EPS’s uniforms and gold to represent the shield. The ribbons were the colours of the medicine wheel, significant to the Cree in Treaty 6. Edmonton sits in Treaty 6 territory. She wrote her name in Cree syllabics on the leather.
“I also put a little bit of sage in them so they’re in good medicine. So whoever holds it will have good medicine to them,” said Ladouceur.
Woodworker Roger Freeman crafted cedar boxes for each eagle feather and carved individualized eagle feathers on each lid.
“The cedar is a powerful matriarch of trees…. So that’s the significance of the cedar and how the cedar boxes are made,” said Letendre, who assisted with the cultural protocols of incorporating the eagle feathers into EPS operations.
Ladouceur believes that including the eagle feather is “important work” being undertaken by the EPS.
“I feel it’s a good step in healing, acknowledgement. You know, all the things that we are saying that need to be done are happening,” she said.
“To see the Edmonton city police are trying to make it visible. It’s not a deep dark secret anymore. They are acknowledging that the relationship is—was—is broken and that these steps will help future generations saying that we’ve done wrong, but this is what we’re doing and working together with the Indigenous communities and Edmonton city police.”
She also thinks it’s important for those who are incarcerated.
“I think of incarceration or being convicted and that person to see that eagle feather and know that that is who they are and that’s who their people came from, is huge,” said Ladouceur. And that’s their connection, even though they may not walk that life yet, or that path, that they know that their ancestors did and it could be a turn around point for them.”
Letendre points out that the eagle feather isn’t only for Indigenous people.
“Everybody on this earth has the right to use an eagle feather as an oath,” she said, as it represents “the strength, the courage, the honesty, the humility, all those values, all those virtues that governs who we are as people.”
“To me this is a small step to things that we can still do better in the future,” said Wilde. “I hope that with our services, and I hope that with our community, this initiative just continues to grow a new path and new opportunities for us just to learn and be better people together.”
In its statement, the EPS said it “hoped that the sacred eagle feathers … (would) help demonstrate the Edmonton Police Service’s ongoing commitment to the community.”
Letendre presided over a pipe ceremony to welcome the eagle feathers into the community on June 18.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.