All your eagles are belong to us

Many Natives in the U.S. were not aware that a petition has been put forth that pushes for loosening and changing regulations over who can request and possess feathers and bird parts from protected species, such as eagles.

The original Facebook post indicated that the original deadline was July 1st to submit comments. It was since extended to July 16th 11:59pm EST, which is today. Link at the end of the post.

Here are excerpts from the letter sent to Tribal leaders. To view a screenshot of the full document, please click the pic below.

“Currently, the Morton Policy only applies to members of federally recognized tribes, but the petitioners are requesting expansion of the Morton Policy to “all sincere religious believers who use federally protected feathers in their religious exercise.” The petitioners also request that the Service codify this expanded version of the Morton Policy by enacting a regulation allowing all sincere religious believers to possess, travel with, or acquire or transfer without compensation eagle feathers.”

The problem with this verbiage is that this would open the collection and possession of eagle feathers and parts to anyone, non-Natives included. Those non-Natives will absolutely include pretendians, over 300 false Cherokee tribes among all the other fake Native “tribes” out there, new agers and every Becky who thinks smudging is a game. It might as well remove the protections altogether since anyone can claim “sincere religious intent” without actually meaning it or practicing respectfully with parts and feathers that we hold sacred.

Not only is this a dangerous potential, but if allowed, would further restrict some pretty significant restrictions in current wait times to obtain eagle feathers and parts. It can be anywhere from a couple of years or upwards of five. Before the American Indian Religious Freedom Act passed in 1978, Native Americans weren’t legally allowed to practice vital cultural practices and ceremonies. Before and after then, non-Natives have appropriated our cultures and practices; white sage is now an endangered plant, partly due to that appropriation. Now it’s eagle feathers.

“The petitioners request that “members of a state or federally recognized tribe, Native American church, or other Native American religious organization should enjoy a presumption of sincerity,” and that others who claim a religious need for federally protected feathers demonstrate their sincerity in other ways.”

This “demonstrate their sincerity in other ways” is extremely ambiguous and does not adequately clarify what those ‘other ways’ to be. Any pretendian or pretendian tribe can claim feathers are vital to their pretendian ways and say so sincerely. Every 1/16th Cherokee can pull a great great grandma story and claim to use feathers sincerely but won’t have any cultural background or connection.

There is an issue with the Native American churches or Native American religious organizations being formed and run by non-Native people, or those who practice non-Native religion rather than culture while in the guise of “Native American religion”. Christian religions have never used eagle feathers in any practice either.

“Currently, only members of federally recognized tribes may apply to the National Eagle Repository (Repository) to request eagles and/or their parts for religious use with some limited exceptions. The petitioners request an amendment to 50 C.F.R. 22.22, which would expand access to the Repository to all sincere religious believers who use eagle feathers for religious purposes.”

The phrase “sincere religious believers” begs the question what exactly that means. Our cultures are not religions in the sense of how non-Natives view religion. This particular phrase suggests that the intent of the petition is Christian-based rather than Native, something that current restrictions help protect us against.

While the letter had been sent to tribal leaders, here’s some info at the bottom of the letter.

“In recognition of our government-to-government relationship, however, I especially encourage you or your designated tribal representative to comment on behalf of your Tribe either through the www.regulations.gov or by contacting Mr. Scott Aikin, by telephone at 202-285-3411 or by email at scott_aikin@fws.gov.”

It seems that the original petitioner is a religious leader by the name of Robert Soto. According to a UPI article, a raid during a pow wow in which he surrendered eagle feathers to avoid criminal investigation prompted the petition.

“Becket, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., represents Robert Soto, a feather dancer and religious leader in the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. Soto filed a petition a year ago with the Fish and Wildlife Service, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, seeking the change.”

Had the petition been limited to include state recognized tribes and/or those who could at the very least prove their genealogy, this might have been worth consideration. The ‘anyone demonstrating sincerity’ kills any positive outcome for Indigenous peoples in the United States when it comes to obtaining and possessing eagle feathers.

“The proposal has drawn some opposition, including from the Otoe-Missouria Tribe in Oklahoma. Elsie Whitehorn, tribal historic preservation officer, said the tribe has a vital interest in protecting its historic and ancestral cultural resources.

“In this case, a Christian church is stating it needs eagle feathers as a required part of its practice,” Whitehorn wrote in a letter submitted online. “There is no Christian theology that requires the use of eagle parts. And non-native participants have no business saying they need eagle feathers to practice a Christian way of worship.””

Exactly.

There are less than 500 comments currently. Please follow this link to leave your comments about this petition. A new tab will open.

https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FWS-HQ-LE-2018-0078-0001

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