Eagle Feather Tradition Takes Flight
The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) is adding the eagle feather, a sacred Indigenous symbol, to its policies and procedures to be more inclusive of the community it serves.
In Indigenous culture, it is believed that all things possess inherent power and wisdom, and the eagle is a powerful spiritual symbol signifying a connection with the Creator.
The eagle is seen as a messenger of the Creator who imparts wisdom and medicine, so its feathers are sacred gifts to be used reverently in ceremonies, to honour people, show respect, or to purify and pray for blessings.
The eagle feather has always held special significance for recently retired EPS Det. Eric Wilde, whose family originates from the northern Alberta Cree community of Desmarais.
Det. Wilde was passionately involved with the Indigenous community as an advocate and mentor over his 30-year policing career, but always felt that EPS needed to do more to be inclusive of the community’s culture and traditions.
When eagle feathers were introduced into Alberta Courts for the swearing of oaths on Nov. 8, 2019, he saw an opportunity for EPS to use the feathers in a similar manner to show respect for Indigenous culture and move forward with reconciliation.
Not long after on Jan. 8, 2020, Det. Wilde brought this initiative forward to Chief Dale McFee and the EPS Leadership Team and received overwhelming support to amend EPS policy to include the use of an eagle feather for the swearing of oaths.
With the assistance of Andrea Levey, EPS Indigenous Equity Advisor, Det. Wilde began the journey of bringing together community members to fashion the eagle feathers in a way that would honour the spirit and traditions of the Indigenous peoples.
As eagles are a protected species, Director Sue Cotterill with Alberta Fish and Wildlife helped obtain the eagle feathers for the initiative. Afterwards, Métis artisan Lisa Ladouceur added the beading, ribbons and sage to the feathers, and woodworker Roger Freeman crafted the cedar boxes to protect them.
Indigenous Elder Betty Letendre was sought out to assist with the cultural protocols of incorporating the eagle feathers into EPS operations, and later presided over a pipe ceremony to welcome the eagle feathers into the community on June 18, 2021.
Together, these community members helped create seven eagle feathers for EPS to use at each police division and in recruit training, and without their dedication and support this initiative would not have been possible.
Now new police recruits, witnesses and complainants have the option of swearing their oaths with a sacred eagle feather, Holy Bible, Noble Qur’an, or affirmation / solemn declaration. The feather can also be used for community ceremonies where appropriate.
Because the eagle feather represents truth, power and freedom, those who hold it must also speak the truth with honour and respect, so EPS will be training employees to understand its proper use and context.
It is hoped that the sacred eagle feather can provide grounding, connection and strength for all who use it, and help demonstrate the Edmonton Police Service’s ongoing commitment to the community.
The eagle feathers are being introduced at EPS locations on National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, 2021.