SALT LAKE CITY — After several years of effort from Native American tribes, including groups in Utah, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services announced Wednesday it will allow tribal members to collect eagle feathers found on tribal lands so they can be used for religious and cultural ceremonies.
Prior to the agreement, Fish and Wildlife Services officials would examine the eagle to make sure it wasn't poisoned or illegally killed, and then send it to its National Eagle Repository. Tribal groups had to go through the repository before tribal members were allowed to collect feathers.
Under the new policy, a tribal member who discovers eagle remains on their land will first report the carcass to Fish and Wildlife Services. Law enforcement will then examine the eagle to make sure it wasn’t poisoned or illegally killed. If disease or poison is ruled out, a tribal member with a special permit issued by the National Eagle Repository or with verbal authorization will be able to take possession of the bird and feathers without further process.
According to the American Indian Heritage Foundation, feathers symbolize trust, honor, strength, wisdom, power, freedom and more; and they carry great importance for many Native American tribes. Golden or bald eagle feathers are considered of greater importance, the foundation says, because they symbolize the connection with the heavens because of the bird’s ability to fly higher in the sky than other birds. It is considered an honor in Native American culture to receive eagle feathers.
In a statement after the changes were announced, the Ute Tribal Business Committee in Utah thanked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for its decision, calling it a step in the right direction. But the committee also said they were concerned about the possibility the agency may also allow non-Indians the ability to possess eagle feathers.
The Business Committee looks forward to continuing discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on these issues to ensure tribal sovereignty and the government’s trust responsibility to all federally recognized Indian Tribes are upheld.
–The Business Committee
“Allowing non-Indians to possess eagle feathers for religious purposes fundamentally violates the government’s trust obligation to Indian tribes, undermines the federal law and policy governing over a century of tribal federal relations, and irreparably harms all federally recognized Indian tribes by incentivizing the appropriation and commercialization of not only eagle feathers, but Native American culture and religious beliefs,” the committee wrote in the statement. “The Business Committee looks forward to continuing discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on these issues to ensure tribal sovereignty and the government’s trust responsibility to all federally recognized Indian Tribes are upheld.”
Under the change, the agency also said eagle parts and feathers may be sent to museums, scientific societies or zoological parks for scientific reasons if the remains are undesirable or unsuitable for Native American tribes.
The Ute Indian Tribe is based on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in the northeastern part of the state. There are more than 3,000 members of the tribe and it oversees about 1.3 million acres of land.