The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) is adding the eagle feather, a sacred Indigenous symbol, as an option for recruits, witnesses and complainants when swearing oaths.
New police recruits, as well as members of the public who interact with police, can choose between a sacred eagle feather, Holy Bible, Noble Qur’an or affirmation/solemn declaration.
“This initiative itself has changed policy throughout the police service,” said Ret. Det. Eric Wilde.
“The policy said, in bold lettering, ‘The member will take the Bible in their right hand. The member will say: ‘I swear to God.”
“Look around the police service. Look around the community. We come from all directions. We come from many places. That language, that we’ve had for decades, is not inclusive,” Wilde said.
“The eagle feature itself can be used by anybody in the community, anybody in the police service, in lieu of the Qur’an or the Bible to swear an oath.”
Wilde, who recently retired, was an Indigenous advocate during his 30-year policing career. His family comes from the northern Alberta Cree community of Desmarais.
When Alberta Courts introduced eagle feathers for the swearing of oaths on Nov. 8, 2019, Wilde saw an opportunity for EPS to be more inclusive of Indigenous culture and traditions.
He presented the idea to Chief Dale McFee and the EPS Leadership Team in January 2020 “and received overwhelming support to amend EPS policy to include the use of an eagle feather for the swearing of oaths,” EPS said in a news release Monday.
Several community members worked together to bring the idea to reality, including EPS Indigenous equity advisor Andrea Levey, Alberta Fish and Wildlife director Sue Cotterill, Métis artisan Lisa Ladouceur, woodworker Roger Freeman and Indigenous Elder Betty Letendre.
“We’re making history,” Letendre said.
“This has never been done before. What an honour that is.”
In Indigenous culture, the eagle feather represents truth, power, freedom and connection with the Creator.
“We’re not putting things in the rearview mirror,” Wilde said. “We should be aware of how things have been for decades and we should be honest with each other and Elder Betty helps us to be honest and respectful.”
“To see that the Edmonton city police are trying to make it visible — it isn’t a deep dark secret anymore — they are acknowledging the relationship was/is broken and that these steps will help future generations,” Ladouceur added.
Seven eagle feathers have been prepared for oaths, interviews and other ceremonies done through the EPS.
Those who hold the feathers must also speak the truth with honour and respect, so EPS will be training employees to understand its proper use and context, the service explained.
The feathers were introduced at EPS locations on June 21, 2021: National Indigenous Persons Day.