The weight of a single feather.
Holding a golden eagle feather in a specially-designed container emblazoned with the RCMP logo, the commander of the Lac La Biche RCMP detachment came out of a ceremonial tipi following a special designation ceremony last Friday afternoon.
The ceremony was held at the Indigenous tipis on the causeway leading to Sir Winston Churchill Park in Lac La Biche. The tipis, placed on the shores of Lac la Biche lake, have served as a tourism destination as well as a focus point for Indigenous cultural teachings.
Elders and band members from Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Kehewin Cree Nation and Saddle Lake Cree Nation joined regional RCMP members and dignitaries for the ceremony to bless an eagle feather, which will hold spiritual and cultural significance at the local police office.
"The idea is that when people come into the detachment — or into court — this can be used much the same way as a statement taken by oath for Indigenous clients," said Lac La Biche Staff Sgt. Jerry Nutbrown said, explaining that the significance of the eagle feather helps to connect police services to members of the community they serve. "It is to honor the culture and to accept their past customs, and it becomes part of our process."
The eagle feather, says Nutbrown can help people who may feel intimidated by the vast size of the justice system.
"It can bring strength and courage for someone to tell their story," he said.
Saddle Lake Elder Lazare Whiskeyjack performed the ceremonial smudge and pipe ceremony to bless the eagle feather. He also performed a blessing of the RCMP detachment the day before the ceremony at the tipis.
Whiskeyjack said the feather is for Indigenous people who come into contact with all aspects of the justice system. Whether they are witnesses, victims or offenders, the Elder says the presence of the eagle feather in the local detachment helps to bring people together and can be part of a healing process.
"There are major changes because they are working with the system now, working with our people. It's a big step for the RCMP as well," he said. "In our tradition, the feather is to speak the truth, like in the bible, they swear to the bible."
Whiskeyjack, who has worked with law enforcement and the justice system as an Elder in the federal justice system, says the significance of culture can help many people who have "lost their way." He said in recent years the addition of healing circles, sweat lodges and Elder interaction with offenders have offered paths forward for many Indigenous people. The eagle feather is another step forward.
"It's a beginning," he said, but adding that the feather and the opportunities will only help those who want the help. "They have a chance to help themselves. And it's up to them — if they want it — if not, it's not going to help them."
The feather is a connection, says the elder, connecting people to their past and their future.
"It's a connection, a chance for someone or anybody to start on their journey to change. That feather represents truthfulness and honesty," he said.
The eagle feather will be housed at the Lac La Biche RCMP detachment and will be made available to any client in need.
When a person uses the eagle feather, an affirmation statement will be made:
"This eagle feather symbolizes our direct connection to the Creator for my people and I hold it in the spirit of honour and truth. All my relations."