Nuu-chah-nulth, Port Alberni RCMP use culture to expand discussions

Joseph Tom, senior cultural worker with the Nuu-chah-nulth Quu?asa program in Port Alberni, hands an eagle feather to Port Alberni RCMP Cst. Pete Batt during a blessing ceremony on Friday, June 5, 2020. The RCMP will use 12 feathers to help them better communicate with Indigenous people in the community. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Joseph Tom, senior cultural worker with the Nuu-chah-nulth Quu?asa program in Port Alberni, hands an eagle feather to Port Alberni RCMP Cst. Pete Batt during a blessing ceremony on Friday, June 5, 2020. The RCMP will use 12 feathers to help them better communicate with Indigenous people in the community. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Joseph Tom, senior cultural worker with the Nuu-chah-nulth Quu?asa Program in Port Alberni, holds a woven cedar rope and an eagle feather during a blessing for 12 eagle feathers Port Alberni RCMP will be using to help Indigenous people speak to them. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Peggy Tatoosh and Port Alberni RCMP Cst. Pete Batt run the Culture Share program in partnership with School District 70. Both of them worked to bring the eagle feather protocol to Nuu-chah-nulth territory. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP Acting Officer in Charge Sgt. Peter Dionne, left, sprinkles powdered Devil’s Club over the eagle feather folders while RCMP Cst. Pete Batt follows with a candle flame during a blessing ceremony outside the Nuu-chah-nulth Quu?asa Program building on Third Avenue, Friday, June 5, 2020. Quu?asa cultural worker Joseph Tom, right, waits to say a prayer over the folders. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
C?ix?atin (twee kwa tin) or eagle is revered in Nuu-chah-nulth culture because he flies highest and is most like the Creator. The feathers of c?ix?atin represent courage and strength to those who hold them. The RCMP feathers are contained in handmade cloth folders whose clasps are brass buttons from the uniforms of Port Alberni RCMP Cst. Pete Batt’s father, a former RCMP officer. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Peggy Tatoosh, from left, Port Alberni RCMP Sgt. Peter Dionne, Cpl. Jay Donohue from the Indigenous Policing Section, and Kim Erickson from the Nuu-chah-nulth Quu?asa Program hold a woven cedar rope as they listen to cultural worker Joseph Tom talk about how each strand in the rope, woven together, brings strength to the final product. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Members of the Nuu-chah-nulth Quu?asa Program and Port Alberni RCMP held a ceremony on June 5 that will help improve relations between Indigenous people and the police in the city.

Twelve eagle feathers received a Nuu-chah-nulth elder’s blessing before they are put to use as a talking tool for RCMP.

The eagle, or C?ix?atin (pronounced tsee kwa tin) holds reverence with Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples, Port Alberni RCMP Cst. Pete Batt explained. “C?ix?atin flies the highest and is most like the Creator. The feathers of C?ix?atin represent courage and strength.”

When a speaker holds a feather, the way they run it through their fingers is a form of expression, Quu?asa Program senior cultural worker Joseph Tom said. “It tells a story, whatever story you told to it…these feathers are important. When something comes out of your mouth, trust it.”

Port Alberni RCMP officers will be able to offer the feathers to clients who need strength and courage that the feather offers when speaking to officers.

Port Alberni RCMP Acting Officer in Charge Sgt. Peter Dionne, Cpl. Jay Donohue, Cst. Darren Pinto and Cst. Gary Barlett joined Batt and his Culture Share partner Peggy Tatoosh, Tom and Kim Erickson from Quu?asa Program for the blessing ceremony.

Tom had Dionne sprinkle powdered Devil’s Club over the feathers and folders while Batt lit a candle. Tom then blessed the feathers with a prayer.

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The 12 feathers came from 10 eagles that were gifted to the Culture Share program last year, and the feathers harvested by participants. The feathers will be enclosed in a handmade cloth folder with a card explaining their significance and use; the clasps for the folders are made of brass RCMP buttons Batt contributed.

“These brass buttons all came from my late father’s uniforms,” he said. “My father was an RCMP member who faced many challenges when working with Indigenous clients. He saw Indian reserves that had been guaranteed to First Nations in years past, taken away from them in the name of industry and economic development.

“By speaking to the people in (one) village he learned to understand their plight and to help them communicate their plight to others. He quickly learned that they did not despise anyone who was willing to listen to them.”

Batt acknowledged that mistrust of police authorities still exists, even though his father’s stories came from a time before Batt was born. “These feathers are meant to help facilitate communication,” he said.

“The feather helps our clients speak. Dad’s brass buttons are a reminder for us, as police officers, to listen.”

The idea behind the talking feathers comes from the Eagle Feather Protocol, adopted by RCMP detachments in Nova Scotia. The feather is used for formal legal proceedings in that province, Batt explained. The challenge to adopting the protocol in British Columbia is that the eagle means different things to different Indigenous nations—beliefs are not consistent from nation to nation. As a member of the Indigenous Policing Section in Port Alberni and through the Culture Share program he helps run with Peggy Tatoosh, he learned that Nuu-chah-nulth beliefs are consistent with the Eagle Feather Protocol.

“We were asked to use the feather as Nuu-chah-nulth students use them,” he said.

He hopes the eagle feather program grows in Port Alberni; he would like to have the feathers cleansed regularly by someone at Quu?asa, and hopes the use of feathers “will become something we do every day in Nuu-chah-nulth territories.”

READ: Eagle feather from B.C. flew to space with Canadian astronaut

Tatoosh praised the RCMP for introducing the eagle feather program to Port Alberni. “There are people behind the scenes who are trying,” she acknowledged. “I appreciate the respect being shown in Nuu-chah-nulth territories by using something cultural.

“This is good work. There is lots more work to be done; don’t give up, though.”

The timing of the eagle feather blessing was coincidental, Batt said. “We had been planning this up until the COVID-19 thing started and we had to delay,” he explained. “Two weeks ago, Kim and I got in touch by e-mail because we were both thinking…with the extra stress from COVID-19 we needed to push forward with it.

“Today was the day, and it worked out. With what is happening in the United States, it is a coincidence and a really important time to be doing it.”

Erickson agreed. “It’s an important time to show we are working with the RCMP and the aboriginal liaison team they have. They’ve put a lot of work in over the years; very respectful. We have a very good relationship with the RCMP because of that.”

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