Eagle Protection: Examining the Interaction between Federal Regulation and Traditional Tribal Practice
Created on August 05, 2020
Longstanding federal law protects bald and golden eagles by criminalizing their illegal "take." This includes so-called "direct takes," where individuals and companies may be criminally prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice – and, if convicted, fined and imprisoned – for killing eagles or possessing or trafficking in eagle feathers and body parts. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and other Federal laws also make it a crime to "take" eagles indirectly – for instance, by operating a commercial wind energy turbine facility without a valid eagle "take" permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("USFWS"). These Federal protections run headlong into some Native American cultural practices, predating the United States, by which traditional practitioners have been "taking" eagles for years. Eagles occupy a special place in the spirituality of many tribes, which in some instances historically maintained their own eagle aviaries and have continued to "take" eagles for religious purposes since time immemorial.
This clash of civilizations has led to an uneasy and incomplete accommodation in contemporary Federal law, in which this presentation addresses legal and cultural perspectives. Beginning with the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico a generation ago, USFWS has authorized a growing number of Native American tribal eagle sanctuaries by which tribes may care for injured or wounded eagles. USFWS has also established the National Eagle Repository in Denver, to which eagles that have been electrocuted, shot, poisoned, or otherwise have died may be sent, by which traditional Native spiritual practitioners may apply to obtain eagle features and body parts for non-commercial, ceremonial purposes. The demand for eagles greatly exceeds the available supply and may now be further strained by ongoing efforts from non-Indians to request eagles feathers and body parts from the Repository on religious or spiritual grounds.
- Examine the Federal laws and treaties protecting eagles, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Lacey Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
- Become familiar with traditional tribal spiritual practices and customs concerning eagles
- Discuss tribally initiated eagle protection and habitat protection programs
- Identify the role of the National Eagle Repository and emerging challenges to the Federally operated and directed system by which Native Americans may request eagle feathers and body parts
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