‘Cross your heart and hope to die’

It is not the norm where something good can come from a crime, but sometimes that is exactly the case.

About one year ago, a woman was a victim of a crime investigated by Lakeshore Regional Police Service. Being the victim involved in the criminal process, she was unwillingly dragged through the process. Out of the mess that sometimes can evolve in court, something wonderful happened, something that High Prairie court can claim to be a first.

The woman, as part of her healing process and to assist in the court process, had a simple request. She asked if those involved could swear their oath through the use of an eagle feather.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A ceremony June 25 at High Prairie provincial court marked another positive step in recognizing the value Indigenous cultures place on certain objects.

During the ceremony, an eagle feather was presented to court. Swan River First Nation Elder Dustin Twin presented the feather to Judge D.R. Shynkar.

“The eagle feather is symbolic in our culture, it represents strength and honesty,” Twin says.

“It is very well respected by our people.”

In short, when giving witness in a trial, people now have the option to swear an oath on the feather or the Bible.

Just like the woman wanted!

“It is my hope that it will help Indigenous people and anyone else that may want to use the feather,” Twin says.

The presiding judge that day, Judge D.R. Shynkar, commented.

“The request was that the court include in its formal processes a means by which Indigenous persons who believe in the traditions of their people may take an oath to tell the truth in this court using an eagle feather, an item of significant importance in their lives.”

What a great idea! The only question is why did it take so long?

South Peace News tried to contact the woman but we were told she has since moved away. Whether she knows it or not, she is responsible for making history in a very positive and forwarding manner. I hope one day she is given credit for what she helped accomplish.

It is vitally important that each person be given the right – within reason – to choose the way in which they swear an oath. For most of us, it is the Bible. For Indigenous people, it may by an eagle feather.

Any means of compelling a person to tell the truth in court is a good thing. If it takes an eagle feather instead of the Bible, so be it.

The move also recognizes ‘Calls to Action’ in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report, which calls on everyone to recognize and include matters of historical and traditional importance to Indigenous people.

High Prairie is the pilot project for this action in Alberta. It is expected other courts in the province may also want to incorporate the feather as part of their proceedings.

Gold stars for everyone involved in making this happen!

Court is already given the option to swear in people in any manner. I remember a trial in Faust provincial court on June 30, 1992 when a girl, 9, was asked to give testimony. She did not know what it meant to swear upon the Bible. Judge Roger P. Smith knew what to do.

“Do you promise to cross your heart and hope to die?” he asked her.

She replied she did and the trial continued.

By any means possible, no matter what the means, to compel anyone to tell the truth cannot be lost whether it is the use of the Bible or an eagle feather.


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