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New U.S. policy seeks to end legal battle over eagle feathers
October 12th, 2012
08:41 PM ET

New U.S. policy seeks to end legal battle over eagle feathers

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer

Washington (CNN) – The Justice Department sought on Friday to strike a delicate balance between the use of bald eagle feathers by Native American tribes and federal protection of the nation's symbolic bird.

A new government policy would allow tribes to "possess, use, wear or carry" federally protected birds or bird feathers. However, they could not buy or sell the feathers or other bird parts.

The eagle feathers have been of great religious and cultural significance to many tribes. Bald eagles are dark brown with a white head and tail.

The bald eagle has been the national symbol since 1782.

"The Department of Justice is committed to striking the right balance in enforcing our nation's wildlife laws by respecting the cultural and religious practices of federally recognized Indian tribes," said Attorney General Eric Holder in announcing the policy.

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Holder said the step was needed to address concerns of tribal members unsure of whether they could be prosecuted for their religious and cultural practices involving eagle feathers.

Justice and Interior Department officials met several times with tribal leaders during the past year to try to resolve the issue, which has ended up in federal courts.

The bald eagle became an endangered species some 70 years ago and was threatened with extinction.

Congress passed a law that prohibited killing or possessing the majestic bird. That law and tough enforcement succeeded, and by 2007 the bird was removed from the endangered list. It remains protected, however, by laws enforced by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians, described to CNN the historic fascination with the eagle.

"It flies higher than any other creature. It sees many things. It's closer to the Creator," Holden said.

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soundoff (263 Responses)
  1. RealRed

    PROTECT THE EAGLES AND BIRDS OF PREY THEY ARE GODS CREATURES AND WE HUMANS HOLD THEIR FATE !! PROTECT ALL ANIMALS THAT ARE NEEDED AS FOOD TO SURVIVE, WE MUST CONTROL HOW THESE BIRDS ARE TREATED TO SAVE THEM............

    THE LUMBEE SHOULD LEAVE EAGLES ALONE AND OBEY THE LAW SAME AS EVERYONE ELSE !!!!

    sovereign native american tribes can possess eagle feathers because they are their own nations,they are exempt as Sovereign Indian nations.

    all groups calling themselves indians are not nations or sovereign with a government relationship as sovereign,

    the lumbee are not and never have been "federally recognized" they were "Designated as Lumbee indians"by the lumbee act" as individual People and they were not granted "Tribal status" they only claim to be fragments of extinct tribes that had no physical rule over any lterritory or people and have been completely assimilalated as regular citizens of their communitys.not holding or retaining any indian reservation or archaic customs.

    ithe lumbee act was a politically lobbied polite naming ceremony which holds no legal authority nor acknowledgement,nor recognition and grants them no special priveleges except to be called lumbee...or any name they choose.....

    February 23, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  2. center for lumbee studies

    The lumbee tribe IS federally recognized, just no benefits. Very important point to remember.

    December 23, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • RealRed

      Only members of federal Recognized tribes are sovereign nations(this does not apply to "designated people" per the lumbee act not the same as "recognition" of a tribe.

      sovereign native american tribes can possess eagle feathers because they are their own nations,they are exempt as Sovereign Indian nations.

      all groups calling themselves indians are not nations or sovereign with a government relationship as sovereign,

      the lumbee are not and never have been "federally recognized" they were "Designated as Lumbee indians"by the lumbee act" as individual People and they were not granted "Tribal status" they only claim to be fragments of extinct tribes that had no physical rule over any lterritory or people and have been completely assimilalated as regular citizens of their communitys.not holding or retaining any indian reservation or archaic customs.

      ithe lumbee act was a politically lobbied polite naming ceremony which holds no legal authority nor acknowledgement,nor recognition and grants them no special priveleges except to be called lumbee...or any name they choose.....
      ,the term indians can be designated to anyone, example ...west indian ,east indian etc,,,,,

      just because you claim some fractional indian ancestry does not give you the right of a sovereign nations power to an exemptions such as reconized tribes have that ability by treatys , non-recognized group cannot have the same authoruty as a sovereign indian nation no matter how much they beleive what their ancestry is !!

      Soverein indian nations remained Intact with real physical rule over their tribal people by treaty with the US or US army or removal with land claims.

      claiming native heritage based on a Myth is not the same as being a Sovereign Indian ruling nation...........

      you lumbee are subject to the same laws as any other citizen of your state !!!!!! and you have no tradition of Indian eagle feathers not recently invented !! these Lumbees have invented and copied that Indian feather wearing as it was never part of any lumbee mulatto croatan culture,the lumbee have always lived culturally exactly the same as any other american citizen of their state and have never worn feathers anyway they only want to copy what they seen on Tv or the internet mimicking real indian tribes at powows, the lumbee have never retained any such tribal practices so they need to stop copying indian traditions and then claiming those traditions as their own. and wearing possessing eagle and bird of prey feathers is one custom not your own.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  3. Calista Locklear

    IM NATIVE ACTUALLY LUMBEE WE ARE NOT FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED BUT THESE EAGLE FEATHERS HAVE A SACRED VALUE TO US WHY DID THEY DO THIS?
    WE DO NOT KILL THE BIRDS ACTUALLY IF WE FIND A DEAD ONE WE WILL TAKE AND USE EVERY PART OF IT THIS IS NOT FAIR
    WE EARN THEM U CRUSHED SO MEANY NATIVE SOULS

    October 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  4. gunnard larson

    I apologize if this is offensive to those who revere eagles, but I don't understand why they are so strictly protected. They are just really big rats with wings. When I lived in Northen Michigan I saw several every time I drove to town because I drove by the dump and they were flying in to dig through the trash with the seagulls. Beautiful yes, but scavengers all the same. I've always thought it fitting that they were our national bird.

    October 17, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • Greg

      Perhaps your time would be better spent wondering why such a majestic predator is digging through what man throws away? I mean, I dont want to offend anyone but man is just a big hairless rat that walks on two legs.

      October 17, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • gunnard larson

      I couldn't agree more with your second statement. But I don't have to wonder why they are digging through what man throws away. They dig through trash because they are scavangers. While I agree that eagles are majestic they are only predators as a last resort. In all my life I've only seen an eagle go for the kill once but I have seen eagles on carcases more times than I can count.

      October 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.