Conservative senator asks if it is appropriate for an Indigenous colleague to hold an eagle feather
Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett asked the Speaker to decide whether it is okay for a member of the Upper House to hold an eagle feather when speaking in the House, saying he was concerned that the use of this type of “accessory” is not against the rules.
Plett rose on a point of order on Thursday when Manitoba Senator Mary Jane McCallum, Cree Senator and Indian Residential School survivor, delivered a speech on Bill C-15, a government law aimed at enshrining the United Nations Declaration on rights of indigenous peoples (UNDRIP) in Canadian law.
McCallum, who was joining the debate via Zoom, was seen holding an eagle fan as she delivered her remarks. A few minutes after the start of his speech, Plett intervened.
“I ask this very, very reluctantly. Very reluctantly. But we have rules in this chamber and one of them is not to allow any kind of props. And I would consider that what the senator McCallum’s out there is a prop. I would ask you to rule on that, “Plett said.
After some reluctance from fellow senators, Plett then withdrew his point of order, saying he did not want to appear insensitive “in light of the current circumstances.” He said he did not intend to offend McCallum by raising the matter.
But he asked the President to “create rules on what is appropriate and what is not … I think we have rules on this”.
In general, accessories, objects or exhibitions of any kind are not allowed in the chambers of Parliament.
the House of Commons Procedure and Practice says that “speakers have always excluded displays or demonstrations of any kind used by members to illustrate their remarks or emphasize their positions.”
“Likewise, props of any kind, used as a means of making silent comment on issues, have always been deemed unacceptable in the House.” This ban is generally followed in the Senate.
The question is whether an eagle feather is an “accessory” or an integral part of an individual’s cultural identity.
The eagle is considered sacred in First Nations and Native American cultures because it is said to be the bird that flies the highest and closest to the creator.
Its feathers are used in many ceremonies, such as talking circles, healing ceremonies, and powwows. They represent honesty, truth, majesty, strength, courage, wisdom, power and freedom.
Recognizing the importance of these feathers to certain First Nations peoples, the provincial courts of Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have made them available to victims of acts criminals, witnesses, police officers and others to enable them to take an oath without a Bible.
Former Manitoba MLA Elijah Harper held an eagle feather when he rejected the Meech Lake Accord in 1990 – voting against a motion to debate the constitutional amendment in the legislature and making derail the ratification process. He feared that the amendment, which would have rallied Quebec to the Constitution, had been drafted without first consulting the First Nations peoples.
“It is not an accessory”
McCallum said Thursday she squeezed the eagle’s feathers when speaking on a “deep and deep subject” like UNDRIP because the Elders advised her to do so.
“They said it was important, you take it with you, and that’s why I have it with me today,” McCallum said in response to Plett’s objections.
“This is who I am, this is what was taken from me, and I will not give it up again … It is not a prop. It is a ceremonial object.”
Progressive Senator Pierre Dalphond has defended McCallum, saying eagle feathers are “a sign of nothing other than one’s own culture and identity.”
“We have colleagues who wear a turban on their heads, we have colleagues who dress in a certain way that is part of their culture or tradition, so I certainly don’t think that’s a point of order.” , did he declare.
After Plett withdrew his point of order, McCallum continued with his speech, holding the quill. “I understand the rules and I understand their needs for change, and that change will come,” she said.