Native American Tribe Granted Permission To Hunt Bald Eagles
The US government for the first time has granted a Native American tribe in Wyoming permission to kill two bald eagles for a religious ceremony, opening the door for future negotiations for native tribes to claim more of the nationally honored birds for their long-suppressed religious freedoms, the tribe said.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) granted the Northern Arapaho Tribe a permit on March 9 allowing it to either kill or capture and release two bald eagles this year. The permit application was first filed by the tribe in 2008, and after years of review, the FWS decided to allow the hunt to take place.
“They did make a case for why the take of a bird from the wild was necessary,” Matt Hogan, Denver regional director for the FWS, told CNN´s Eric Fiegel.
The tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court last year challenging the denial of the application by the government, saying it “unreasonably burdens the religious rights of tribal members,” according to court documents. Despite the FWS´s permit approval that case is still pending.
Hogan said the reasoning behind the approval had nothing to do with lawsuit. He said it took some time to make sure all the criteria were met and that the permit was in accordance with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which allows Bald Eagles to be used in Native American religious ceremonies.
While the religious sincerity of the Northern Arapaho tribe isn´t being called into question, there is concern among animal advocates, who believe there are other ways to honor spiritual traditions without having to kill the revered creatures. They say the tribe could raise captive birds, or accept eagle feathers or carcasses already available from a federal repository that collects birds killed by accidents or other causes.
But tribal leaders said that program was quite inadequate. Spiritual leader Nelson White said tribal members have in the past received badly decomposed eagles from the national repository. And one tribal member waited five years to receive an eagle from the program, only to open the box and find a goose.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, the country´s largest animal protection agency, said the FWS´s decision was alarming. “There is something unsettling about allowing the authorized killing of the bald eagle,” Pacelle told Reuters reporter Laura Zuckerman.
Tribal leaders said the permit, which can be renewed yearly, is a “start” but two eagles are not enough to meet the needs of 9,600 Northern Arapahos living in west-central Wyoming. “After further negotiations are pursued, we may be able to obtain even more eagles down the road,” William C’Hair, the tribe’s language and cultural commissioner, told Zuckerman.
The Bald Eagle was nearly extinct before the government banned the pesticide DDT in the early 70s and later adopted federal protections for the raptor. Legislation in the late 70s was instrumental in helping the bird bounce back to healthy numbers, with breeding pairs soaring from 400 in 1963 to more than 9,500 today.
The eagles were removed from the threatened and endangered species act list in 2007, but there are still other federal laws in place protecting them from being hunted and killed. However, the FWS determined it was allowable for native people to claim bald eagles for their religious ceremonies as long it did not endanger the preservation of eagle populations.
Diane Katzenberger, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, told Zuckerman that the agency will use the criteria from this case and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act when evaluating similar requests from other tribes. “However, at this time we do not have other pending permit applications,” she noted.
The Northern Arapaho say the eagle represents a powerful figure in its tribal lore and in their spiritual practices, many of which were historically outlawed by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs accompanied by a program of involuntary acculturation of native peoples.
Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, told CNN’s Fiegel that the eagle “flies higher then any other creature. It sees many things. It’s closer to the Creator.” He said he was disturbed by the comments made that giving the tribes permission to claim eagles would lead to a mass killing of the creatures.
“How stupid can that be?” he said. “It´s a religion. It´s what we do. We´re more concerned about the eagle population than any culture in this Western Hemisphere. Why would we want to kill all the eagles?”
Hoglden said the issuance of the permit will have little impact on the bird. Taking two eagles from the wild “will not in any way jeopardize the status of the eagle population, either in the state of Wyoming or nationwide,” he said.
The Northern Arapaho decline to say what they will do with the eagles once they kill them. But Harvey Spoonhunter, a tribal elder and former chairman of the Northern Arapahoe Business Council, said the eagle has been with us since the beginning of time, and we “respectfully utilize the eagle in our ceremonies “¦ We get to utilize the eagle, which we consider a messenger to the Creator.”
Only a few tribes still practice ceremonies that require them to kill eagles, Suzan Shown Harjo, president of Washington, DC-based Indian rights group Morning Star Institute, told Ben Neary of the Associated Press (AP). From the 1880s through the 1930s, the government enforced so-called “Civilization Regulations” that criminalized many traditional ceremonies, including the Northern Arapaho´s Sun Dance.
The permit is good until February 2013, and Holden said he knows of no other applications being filed. The permit requires that tribe members must notify the FWS within 24 hours once a bald eagle is captured or killed.