Eagle feathers now permitted in Nova Scotia courts
Witnesses and others who are about to give testimony in Nova Scotia courts will now be able to swear a legal oath on an eagle feather, a change that many say marks an important step toward reconciliation and will help make court processes more inclusive for the province’s Indigenous people.
The feathers will be sent to courthouses across the province to provide another option for those who need to swear an oath. In Canada, it is customary for witnesses to swear to tell the truth as they hold a hand on the Bible or another religious text of their choosing.
“I think it represents a milestone in the history of the criminal justice system within the province,” Chief Paul Prosper, the justice lead for the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, told CTV Atlantic.
Members of Nova Scotia’s judiciary officially adopted the eagle feathers at a ceremony in Halifax on Thursday.
The eagle has significant spiritual importance in many of Canada’s Indigenous communities because it flies closest to the Creator. Its feathers are highly revered and often used in ceremonies across North America.
Incorporating them into the criminal justice system allows Indigenous people “to feel that their culture, that their history, that their belief systems are taken into account,” Prosper said.
Michael MacDonald, the chief justice of Nova Scotia, told CTV Atlantic that allowing Indigenous peoples to swear an oath on an eagle feather “is an important way to attain the truth” and vital “for the comfort of our witnesses.”
The province’s courts followed the lead of the Nova Scotia RCMP, which last year introduced eagle feathers as an alternative for Indigenous people who may swear an oath when entering a detachment to provide a statement or evidence.
Several courts across Ontario have also allowed swearing an oath on the eagle feather.