Eagle feathers in law courts just small step

Eagle feathers in law courts just small step

We’re pleased to have received permission to print this insightful and informative article written by Niigaan Sinclair and published by the Winnipeg Free Press. Here is a link to the article on their website should you wish to read it in that form and appreciate the photos included.

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Originally printed by the Winnipeg Free Press 09/27/2019

By Niigaan Sinclair
Forty migizii migwanag — eagle feathers — were honoured at a sunrise ceremony Thursday and later given to Manitoba justice officials for use during court proceedings. Now, for the first official time in history, anyone in a provincial court can hold a feather while testifying or swearing oaths instead of putting a hand on a Bible.

“The courts are committed to reconciliation, and the court acknowledges its responsibility to find a meaningful way to include Indigenous people in the court system and to build their confidence in the administration of justice,” said provincial court Judge Margaret Wiebe.

It’s a long time coming. The 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (AJI), for example, recommended that culturally centred practices be included and integrated throughout all elements of the justice system.

And, it’s a small gesture. The AJI also called for the creation of an Aboriginal justice system, an Aboriginal justice college, and all land claims to be settled.

So, a few dozen feathers, nearly three decades later, is really just a step, and a small step, especially considering the over-incarceration rates of Indigenous peoples. I know many in the Indigenous community who are suspicious that including a few feathers to the court system means nothing.

So, if migizii migwanag are now “an implement of justice in Manitoba,” as elder Ed Azure declared Thursday, it’s crucial we understand what this means.

The blessed eagle feathers were presented to the courts during a special joint sitting of the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court of Manitoba on Thursday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
The first thing is: feathers aren’t religious. In fact, there is no Indigenous “religion” one can convert to. Indigenous peoples have spirituality. Spirituality is based in the real-life knowledge, history and lives of Indigenous peoples and manifested in ceremonies, songs and stories. It’s a living tradition.

So, an eagle feather is not a Bible, it’s more like a relative you travel with and learn from.

This is why an eagle feather is not something you take or buy, but something gifted to you. Feathers are designed to build community, which is why elders say they have two sides and a spine.

That’s why you find feathers in talking circles, healing ceremonies, or at a pow-wow. Chiefs also wear them in headdresses and elders give them to future leaders.

The meaning of migizii migwan is found in its name. The word migizii refers to the megis shell, one of our most sacred Anishinaabeg teachings. Anishinaabeg have carried megis shells for a long time, from our thousand-year migration from the eastern shores of North America to our lives in and around the Great Lakes.

Just like the megis, eagles teach us about where we have been and where we are going as a people.

The second word, migwan, refers to two words: miikwan, a verb meaning to “hit the target” and mikan, “to search.” Watching eagles will demonstrate these teachings the best.

People will now be able to hold an eagle feather in Manitoba court rooms while testifying and swearing oaths instead of putting a hand on a Bible. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
Eagles, for example, fly highest in the sky — as high as 3,000 metres (10,000 feet). They travel hundreds of square kilometres and can spot other eagles and animals up to five kilometres away. Eagles see the “big picture” while pinpointing specific, tiny spaces where food and sustenance can be found.

Eagles protect their young and are territorial, especially when parenting. Mothers lay two to four eggs and share incubation duties with their lifelong partners. Eagle parents do not kick their children out of the nest to teach them how to fly, but coax them out supportively.

“There are no flying lessons,” Anishinaabe writer Richard Wagamese describes in his 2011 book One Story, One Song. “One day the young eaglets stand at the rim of their nest with their whole world in front of them. They can hear the call of their parents high above. To fulfil their destiny and become who they were created to be, each of them must make that first frightening jump.”

An eagle knows that she cannot fly for her child, it must fly for itself.

When in conflict, eagles are fearless and tenacious. They face problems head-first and refuse to run.

So, an eagle teaches us to see the big picture and everything in it, including the needs of tomorrow’s generation. After this search, one can return home and, without fear, tell the truth of the journey.

If this doesn’t hit the target of justice I don’t know what does.

An eagle feather is not something you take or buy, but something gifted to you. Feathers are designed to build community, which is why elders say they have two sides and a spine. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)
But this isn’t the only reason eagle feathers are important for justice.

“Eagle feathers are made up of thousands of tiny filaments,” Wabaseemoong Anishinaabe elder Jack Kakaway explains. “An eagle has to control them all, whether the wind is blowing or the air is still. Only that skill will keep the eagle aloft.”

Anyone who has touched a feather knows what Kakaway means. A feather is like a living being, thriving even after leaving an eagle. The oil in its spine keeps its filaments connected. When they are separated, all one has to do is gently stroke the middle spine and distribute the oils so the filaments reconnect.

When eagles experience this, such as when they get wet or in a fight, they will rub against a rock or another eagle, caring for itself. If an eagle shows enough patience and care for herself, she can fly again.

When people speak the truth, no matter how hard it is or how much it hurts, they also repair the filaments. They connect people, heal harms and create a positive path to the future.

Like the feather citizens can now hold in a Manitoba court room, people will now be able to bravely help us all come together, soar to the highest heights and see the big picture.

This is how, just maybe, migizi migwan will teach us all to fly.

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

 

Registration

Register for Circles for Reconciliation

Circles open for new participants

The information below indicates simply the physical location of the circles. There is no requirement for membership in any of the organizations where the circles are being held. Where known, we have also indicated the time of the circles. If you would like to participate in one of these circles please indicate which circle when you register online. You can also register without indicating a specific site where you would like to participate.

A detailed list of circles can be found here.

Common interest in achieving truth and reconciliation and equality of opportunity for Indigenous people is the only requirement for participation.

There is no cost to participation.
Each meeting will be approximately 75 minutes
Participation will include attendance at 10 meetings.

If you know others who might like to take part, please invite them to respond. Once we have 10 participants we will announce the particulars of a new Circle.

Please choose one of the following regions in which you wish to participate.

Toronto
Winnipeg
Other Location

General Registration

Having reviewed and agreed to the “Guiding Principles” posted on this website, I wish to join a group.

We ask this next question to ensure that we have a balance of participants in each circle:
First NationInuitMétisNon-Indigenous

Location
Brandon MBLondon ONNeepawa MBRegina SKSioux Lookout/Dryden ONThunder Bay ONVictoria BCOther

Availability
Please check all that apply.

Weekdays
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday

Weekends
Saturday
Sunday

Start Times
Morning (10am
Afternoon (1pm)
Evening (Starts between 5-7pm)

Can not participate now. Available starting

Facilitator
I would like to be trained to be a facilitator of a group.

Organizer
I would like to be trained to be an organizer of a group in my area.

Email Contact

You will be informed as soon as 10 participants register for a given time. Groups are held in various areas in your city. New groups are starting on a regular basis.

Thank you for your registration! If you cannot attend for some reason, can you please provide 72 hours notice so we may find a replacement. Thank you for this courtesy.

Toronto Registration

Having reviewed and agreed to the “Guiding Principles” posted on this website, I wish to join a group in Toronto.

We ask this next question to ensure that we have a balance of participants in each circle:
First NationInuitMétisNon-Indigenous

Availability
Please check all that apply.

Weekdays
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday

Weekends
Saturday
Sunday

Start Times
Morning (10am
Afternoon (1pm)
Evening (Starts between 5-7pm)

Can not participate now. Available starting

Facilitator
I would like to be trained to be a facilitator of a group.

Organizer
I would like to be trained to be an organizer of a group in my area.

Email Contact

You will be informed as soon as 10 participants register for a given time. Groups are held in various areas in your city. New groups are starting on a regular basis.

Thank you for your registration! If you cannot attend for some reason, can you please provide 72 hours notice so we may find a replacement. Thank you for this courtesy.

Winnipeg Registration

Having reviewed and agreed to the “Guiding Principles” posted on this website, I wish to join a group in Winnipeg.

We ask this next question to ensure that we have a balance of participants in each circle:
First NationInuitMétisNon-Indigenous

Availability
Please check all that apply.

Weekdays
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday

Weekends
Saturday
Sunday

Start Times
Morning (10am
Afternoon (1pm)
Evening (Starts between 5-7pm)

Can not participate now. Available starting

Facilitator
I would like to be trained to be a facilitator of a group.

Organizer
I would like to be trained to be an organizer of a group in my area.

Email Contact

You will be informed as soon as 10 participants register for a given time. Groups are held in various areas in your city. New groups are starting on a regular basis.

Thank you for your registration! If you cannot attend for some reason, can you please provide 72 hours notice so we may find a replacement. Thank you for this courtesy.

Call for Volunteers to Become Part of Our Advisory Committee

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS TO BECOME PART OF OUR ADVISORY COMMITTEE

 What is Circles For Reconciliation (CFR)?
We are a grassroots, full and equal partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with the sole goal of fostering respectful relationships as the basis of reconciliation. We do this by creating small circles of 10 participants with two trained facilitators who meet once a week for 10 weeks for an hour and a half to become informed and share insights and life stories.

While the project began in Winnipeg, it has expanded across Canada, including Toronto. The guiding principles of CFR are the Truth and Reconciliation’s 94 Calls to Action.  We are seeking volunteers in Toronto to serve on the Advisory Committee.

Role of CFR Advisory Committee members:

  • Understand the Truth and Reconciliation Calls To Action
  • Attend Advisory Committee meetings
  • Advise and provide feedback on project development.
  • Promote Circles for Reconciliation
  • Provide support for Toronto Indigenous Community Recruiter

Qualifications

  • Interest in and commitment to Indigenous social justice issues and reconciliation
  • Knowledge of and connections to GTA Indigenous organizations
  • Immediate need is for Indigenous candidates to maintain parity on the Advisory Committee

For more information, contact: Raymond Currie, info@circlesforreconciliation.ca or 1-(204) 487-0512

Closing Protocol for Meetings

Closing Protocol for Meetings:

(Each sentence to be read by a different participant,
with the last sentence being read together by all six)

  1. Reconciliation must become a way of life.
  2. It will take many years to repair damaged trust and relationships in Aboriginal communities and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
  3. Reconciliation not only requires apologies, reparations, and relearning of Canada’s national history, and public commemorations, but also needs real social, political and economic change.
  4. Ongoing public education and dialogue are essential to reconciliation.
  5. Governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in concrete ways, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples.
  6. (All six readers) Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.”

(Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Page 18)

 

General Procedures for Gatherings

GENERAL PROCEDURES FOR GATHERINGS

Each meeting would have the following format:

    1. Opening standard Protocol (by facilitator)
    2. Reading (or alternate presentation) by facilitator or by a designated but volunteer participant, determined by the facilitator (10-12 minutes).
    3. Sharing by everyone in the circle using a talking stick
    4. Closing  (Initiated by the facilitator, but each phrase read by 6 different participants, with the last sentence read by all six). We consider it important that gatherings conclude after 75 minutes with the sharing of the Closing protocol.  In that way, those who wish to leave can do so without feeling guilt or disrupting things. Some may wish to continue discussions if that is acceptable in the facility. But our commitment is for meetings of 75 minutes.
    5. Items needed for each meeting
      • Refreshments, possibly muffins and a drink
      • A talking stick
      • A copy of the Opening Protocol
      • A copy of the  Sacred Teachings of the Anishinaabe
      • 6 copies of the closing Protocol for each group
      • Materials for smudging (if desired) or appropriate invocation

 

A Survivor

“A Survivor is not just someone who “made it through” the schools, or “got by” or was “making do.”

A Survivor is a person who persevered against and overcame adversity. The word came to mean someone who emerged victorious, though not unscathed, whose head was “bloody but unbowed.” It referred to someone who had taken all that could be thrown at them and remained standing at the end. It came to mean someone who could legitimately say “I am still here!”

For that achievement, Survivors deserve our highest respect. But, for that achievement, we also owe them the debt of doing the right thing. Reconciliation is the – thing to do, coming out of this history.

In this volume, Survivors speak of their pain, loneliness, and suffering, and of their accomplishments. While this is a difficult story, it is also a story of courage and endurance. The first step in any process of national reconciliation requires us all to attend to these voices, have been silenced for far too long. We encourage all Canadians to do so.

The Survivors Speak, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Page XIII.

Closing Remarks for all Gatherings

CLOSING FOR ALL GATHERINGS

(Each sentence to be read by a different participant)

1. Reconciliation must become a way of life.

2. It will take many years to repair damaged trust and relationships in Aboriginal communities and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

3. Reconciliation not only requires apologies, reparations, and relearning of Canada’s national history, and public commemorations, but also needs real social, political and economic change.

4. Ongoing public education and dialogue are essential to reconciliation.

5. Governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in concrete ways, working collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples.

6. Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.”  – (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Page 18)

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