In the crisp early morning hours more than 100 people gathered at Oodena Celebration Circle in Winnipeg to welcome a new day in Manitoba’s justice system.
For the first time people giving evidence or speaking in court will be able to do so using an eagle feather.
The day began with a sunrise ceremony to bless the 45 feathers gifted to Manitoba courts and ended with a special presentation to the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court of Manitoba.
Judges of the Supreme Court of Canada were also on hand.
Michael Pierre, a coordinator with Manitoba Justice, called the move a welcome change to how things used to be.
“The feather guided us in our lives and spoke to how we’re supposed to live and for a time in our history it wasn’t allowed. We were threatened if we used our ceremony,” Pierre told the crowd.
The eagle is considered a sacred and wise creature for First Nations people.
The use of its feathers gives Indigenous people a culturally appropriate way to navigate the westernized justice system.
“They do provide a lot of comfort. When someone is going through a hard time it really helps them sort of find that grounding,” said Pierre.
“It helps fix their words, sort of clear their minds and work toward speaking and saying what needs to be said.”
This initiative has been two years in the making.
Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said the court has been grappling with its role in reconciliation.
“We too are trying to understand what does it mean judicial reconciliation? How do we as judges make efforts to reconcile in a meaningful way with our Indigenous communities in a way that would be meaningful to them,” said Joyal.
Prior to this, inclusion of the feather was sporadic.
Generally Indigenous people had to bring their own.
Joyal has seen first hand the impact this option has had on people using it.
“They’re doing it in a way that makes them feel all the more comfortable…all the more respected for who they are in the court system and that makes them, as a result, much more comfortable in court,” he said.
Barry French is one of the three people who gifted the feathers.
French is the training and development coordinator with Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.
The organization had collected a number of eagle feathers for their work with youth when they were asked to donate some to the courts.
French applauds Manitoba Justice for what he calls the first step toward a more collaborative relationship.
“It’s all about our community here in Manitoba working together, so the Indigenous community building bridges into the courts and the other way around,” he said.
The eagle feathers will be available for use for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.