If You Aren’t Native American, Put Down That Bald Eagle Feather

The U.S. Department of Justice recently finalized its policy regarding the use of feathers or other parts of federally protected birds. For most of us, getting caught with a bald eagle feather or raptor claw would be a criminal offense, and killing one might mean jail time. In the recent clarification, however, Native Americans are exempted, allowing federally recognized tribes to use the feathers and other parts of federally protected birds.

Federal wildlife laws, like the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, were  put into place to ensure that eagles and other bird populations remain healthy and sustainable. These laws generally prohibit the possession, use and sale of the feathers or other parts of federally protected birds, as well as the unauthorized killing of such birds.

These majestic birds are a national treasure, and deserve to live out their noble lives without fear of being shot from the sky or caught in a snare. Besides being beautiful and rare, federally protected birds provide a valuable service to the eco-system, eating dead animals and controlling populations of small rodents we might consider to be pests. Logging and the widespread use of a pesticide called DDT almost wiped out the Bald Eagle in the mid-20th century, and it took many years on the endangered species list before the population could recover. The two acts mentioned previously were passed to prohibit the killing, selling, trading, or possession of protected birds by anyone in the U.S., but this creates a problem for America’s original citizens.

Eagles and other raptors hold great meaning for many Native American tribes and sometimes play a role in tribal religious and cultural practices. Under the previously mentioned laws, members of a tribe could be prosecuted for participating in rituals that have been part of their culture for centuries. The DOJ’s clarification, however, seeks to balance the obligation to enforce federal wildlife laws with a commitment to support tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination.

Under the new policy, the DOJ agrees not to prosecute federally recognized tribes who possess, give, exchange, lend or travel with feathers or parts of eagles or migratory birds. However, buying or selling the feathers or other parts of eagles or other migratory birds or trading them for goods or services (or attempting to do so), and killing the bird will still be a criminal offense.

“Eagles and other native migratory bird species are a vital part of our nation’s natural heritage, and we remain dedicated to providing every American with the opportunity to experience them in the wild,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “This new policy honors the past while looking to the future, contributing to the preservation of these species and ensuring that tribal members can continue their religious and cultural practices for generations to come.”

Related Reading:

D.C. Metro Train Rescues Injured Bald Eagle

Amazing Survival Of Baby Golden Eagle Burned In Utah Fire

End Buffalo Slaughter Say Native Americans

Image via Thinkstock

106 comments

Karen H.
Karen H.about a year ago

LV, you ask the question that can pertain to a great many ridiculous laws and behavior: “There aren't other more pressing things that the government should be doing?!” Sometimes I wonder just what they’re doing, because they seem to be focusing on so few issues.

L Vr
L Vrabout a year ago

A tribal leader on Stossel said that he's not able to pass the feathers down through his family after he dies. He expects the US federal government to come back and take the feathers again. His tribe believes in not harming eagles as they are sacred animals to the tribe, but they do use the found feathers because they see them as sacred symbols having power. I find it crazy that his feathers were confiscated and held for 9 years. There aren't other more pressing things that the government should be doing?!

Pamela W.
Pamela W.3 years ago

If only - ALL parts of ALL wild animals were protected in the same way ........ (sigh) !!!

Dale O.

Interesting article. In Ontario, if one finds the body of a bird killed by accident (by car for instance) one has to contact the Ministry of Natural Resources which issues a permit to keep feathers, etc. Luckily, few eagles are killed by vehicles but it can happen as with any other bird. It is illegal to sell eagle feathers but these can be given as a gift. Eagles are not endangered in many parts of Canada but are strictly protected. One cannot bring an eagle feather into the U.S. First Nations (Aboriginal) peoples can opt to use the eagle feather in Ontario courts.

Dale O.

“People testifying in Brantford courtrooms now have the option of holding an eagle feather in the same way a Bible is used as a promise to tell the truth. The eagle feathers were presented to the Brantford courthouse at an official ceremony last month. They are also in use at the courthouse in North Bay. Aboriginals attach great importance to eagle feathers. They play a prominent part in many religious practices and ceremonies. A new oath has been created: “This eagle feather symbolizes our direct connection to the Creator for my people and I hold it in the spirit of the truth.” “It is another step in creating sensitivity in services that aboriginals access in the City of Brantford,” said Sherry Lewis, manager of community programs at Brantford Native Housing.”

Dale O.

"Another alternative in the courtroom is to make an affirmation to tell the truth, which doesn't require any paraphernalia such as a bible or eagle feather.
The summer 2012 edition of Footprints -- produced by the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs -- says the eagle feather can now be used in any courthouse in Ontario."

http://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/2012/08/03/now-you-can-swear-on-an-eagle-feather

http://forums.powwows.com/f26/eagle-feathers-used-under-oath-ontario-courtroom-66748/

Laura T.
Laura T.3 years ago

look up he maine truth&reconsiliation act if you don't believe the atrocities are fresh

Laura T.
Laura T.3 years ago

this is right. yes you cant have the feathers&we can...if your upset imagine how loosing homeland children&lives even to this day feels to us. the only inherent flaw is how many of us are mixed&are challenged because of how we look....

Francois C.
Frank C.3 years ago

This is on par with illegal possession of a firearm by a felon. We're all presumed guilty if we possess a feather. It's totally unconstitutional but who's going to challenge it? And some people commenting here are all for it. They support tyranny as long as it suits their own purpose. This is what happens when you let socio-fascists rule the roost. All of us allowed this to happen so we did it to ourselves and have only ourselves to blame, not only for this, but for what's inevitably coming, soon.

Mike L.
Mike L.3 years ago

Johnice R. Don't know many Native American women who would call themselves a "squaw". A rather derogatory word for a woman.
As it's been pointed out by several knowledgeable people, it's been illegal for a long time to pick up or keep a predatory feather unless your part of the First Nations people---nothing new here, so don't get your feathers all ruffled up. If you want to see eagle feathers, go find a good traditional pow wow and enjoy yourselves and make sure you bring the family! Great things to buy, good food to eat, and you'll be able to participate in a wonderful tradition of respect for elders, veterans, the Earth, and the Creator.