Feds grant Native American tribe permit to kill bald eagles for religious purposes
March 15th, 2012
10:33 PM ET

Feds grant Native American tribe permit to kill bald eagles for religious purposes

By Eric Fiegel, CNN

Washington (CNN) - It's the symbol of America, and for the first time, the U.S. government has granted a Native American tribe a permit to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes.

The permit application was filed in 2008 by the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming and, after years of review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued it on March 9.

"They did make a case for why the take of a bird from the wild was necessary," Matt Hogan, Denver regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service, told CNN.

Last year, the tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the federal government for denying the application, saying it "unreasonably burdens the religious rights of tribal members," court documents stated.

The case is pending.

Hogan, who was in charge of granting the permit, says the lawsuit was not the reason the permit got approved when it did. He says it took 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 by Native Americans in religious ceremonies.

The eagle "flies higher then any other creature. It sees many things. It's closer to the Creator," said Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians. Holden said he was bothered by the comments he was hearing: that this permit would lead to a mass killing of bald eagles.

"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?"

Hogan said the permit's issuance will have little effect on the powerful raptor. 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, "and the good news is bald eagles are doing quite well."

That wasn't the case some 70 years ago, when the species was threatened with extinction, leading Congress to pass a law prohibiting the killing, selling or possession of the bird. In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the threatened and endangered species list.

Hogan said applications for a permit to kill or capture a bald eagle are rare. Native Americans often have to get bald eagle feathers for their ceremonies from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife national feather repository in Denver. Hogan said it can take years for the tribes to get the feathers this way, because demand often exceeds supply.

Holden, who is part Choetaw/Shickasaw, sought to put some perspective on the situation: "If someone ordered a Bible or some religious artifact and they had to wait for a long time, how fair is that?"

The permit is good until February 2013, and Hogan said he knows of no other applications being filed. As part of permit, the tribe has to notify the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within 24 hours once the bald eagles are killed or captured.

Hogan said he is still waiting for that word.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • United States

soundoff (1,883 Responses)
  1. rad666

    I need to start some type of religion that allows me access to all the gold in Fort Knox.

    March 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • RS

      I already started one that says I need a new car in the year 2012. My application is pending. Oh and it also states that I dont have to pay for sushi on Fridays.

      March 16, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  2. Wasi'chu (the one who takes the best meat for himself)

    To those who are expressing righteous indignation towards these natives for killing the eagles please at least contemplate the following. Does this become a problem only when you personally don't benefit and the eagles are killed directly? Far more eagles have died from us by destroying their natural habitats by building our cities, and using resources but when a native group wants to kill and use a few eagles then it becomes an issue? The way they have gone about killing animals is and has been in a sustainable manner. Our ancestors are the ones that killed the buffalo to the brink of extinction purely as a means to deplete the natives resources (they relied heavily upon buffalo for survival).

    Think about the comforts in your own life and how they have caused undue harm and destruction to animals and natural habitats before judging other for doing so on a much smaller scale in a much more sustainable way. Overall their "traditional" ways cause MUCH less harm to nature than our "modernized" ways. BTW I am not advocating that the right thing to do is kill bald eagles, I just think we should withhold our judgement in this case. Let them keep what's left of their culture, even if we don't agree with it.

    Also if you truly believe natives are some how better off now than they were before colonization do some research. Just because we are better off doesn't mean they are. Just because they have casinos doesn't mean all native people are wealthy. Most reservations are in places with few usable resources and are in a state of utter poverty and hopelessness. Here's a link to a well presented talk which may enlighten you. http://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_huey.html

    March 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • RS

      very well said!

      March 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  3. stargazer0413

    The summary killing of two symbols of our nation is pure, unadulterated nonsense. Update religious practices to the 21st century. In biblical times animal sacrifices were part of daily life; no longer. Modern humans, OK, there are exceptions in more primitive, or barbaric places, no longer have animal sacrifices. This is the USA; hopefully, the nation and all of its peoples, are beyond such killings. Looks like this may not be so for some. Sad, immoral, primitive. Taking this a step further, lead poisoning due to eagles and other wildlife consuming injured, or dead wildlife left by hunters, is a horrific way to go. Lead shot, or lead bullets should be banned as well as killing Bald Eagles for any reason.

    March 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  4. Peter Griffin

    Derek held up the hollywood sign

    March 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  5. Lulu

    Bald eagles, hunting wolves, horse meat, shooting owls to save another species, guns in National parks, etc.. this is why I'm staying home in November. Even though I'm a Dem, I can't vote for Obama and these Dems again. I work hard, pay taxes and expect very little back from our Gov. The compromises the Dems make against animals and the environment makes me ill.

    March 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • mary

      you stay home with all the other losers and the GOP will win and then you will be crying. Obama didn't make these rules they have been on the books a long time and just for your info remember the GOP WILL take your rights away, just as they kill the horses, the fish and destroy the ECO SYSTEM.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Lulu

      I can't stand the GOP, yet guess who created the world's largest ocean reserve in Hawaii? W!!! The guy caused so much misery in other ways yet does one meaningful thing that matters to people like me. Obama and the Dems want our votes and we voted for him in 08 yet look at what he's allowing. It's disgusting. The only losers are the ones who just follow along and don't call them out on what they are doing!

      March 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • doughnuts

      If you don't bother to vote, then you get the government you deserve.

      And you don't get to complain about it.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Lulu

      I'm obviously already complaining about it, I think we deserve better!

      March 16, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Mary

      I agree......and I'm a PETA member, I wrote to them looking for their call to action......NOTHING! So they have selective prevention for the crulty of animals. I will never send them my annual $50 again. Hypocrites.

      March 17, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  6. yakman2

    This is BS!!! No way should a bald Eagle ever be killed.....Especially for a religious ceremony....Kill a Taliban.....Oh wait we did that.....

    March 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  7. svann

    People are against it because of the pseudo-religion of nationalist symbol worship. Like flag worship.

    March 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  8. seattle patty

    There are many ancient religious practices in all cultures that have been abandoned, and for good reason. How can ANY religion justify killing ANYTHING? If that's a "religious" practice, then the practice needs to be changed! It's one thing to kill an animal for survival (eg – food), but to kill it because of some old custom is another thing. Just because it's always been done, doesn't make it right. Shame on them!

    March 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Lulu

      Human sacrifice has a longer history, doubt they would give a permit for that.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Dr Mark

      Ah, so killing plants would also fall under the unacceptable definition that you feel should apply to religious worship. On the positive side, at least your level of religious tolerance, a foundation of this country, is clearly indicated by fixation on just the killing part and not the actual ceremony or its purpose.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Lisa

      I absolutely concur with you. These beautiful creatures should not be killed for what they deem a religious purpose and we should not approve of this insulting behavior.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  9. Biology isn't ellusive

    Poaching of bald eagles isn't uncommon and the death of 2 individuals will not effect their population size.
    As for a national symbol...if you know anything about birds, you should know that our national symbol is a scavenger, eating carrion off roads and from other kills, and most closely related to vultures...bald head, get it?
    Let people express their religious freedom so long as it doesn't harm anyone. The respect tribes have for the eagles is unprecedented and far more spiritual than any white man would encounter when sacrificing or harvesting an animal.
    Be glad that there are actually efforts of tribes to abide by legal standards for such an ancient tradition

    March 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  10. William Patrick McElecney

    Native Americans have honored and revered the American Bald Eagle for centuries. They were here first. We immigrants came and stripped the land, polluted the air and continue to show no respect for Mother Earth. It's not like there lining their War Bonnets with them. Show a little respect for a people who deserve to be here more than us. Custer didn't and see where it got him 🙂

    March 16, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Sybaris

      You do know that Indians didn't pop out of the ground, right?

      March 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • stargazer0413

      Let's take your comment one step further... the eagles were here before humans... let's respect their lives too.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • doughnuts

      Custer's problem was that he, and the rest of the Army, was slow to adapt to changes in technology. Not only was the 7th Cavalry armed with single-shot rifles, but Custer refused to change his tactics to include the two Gatling guns his regiment possessed.

      That, and his towering ego.

      March 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  11. Iconoclast

    NEWSFLASH!!!!!!!! Bald Eagles issue permits to kill Feds

    March 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • King Crow

      Thank GOD for that!

      March 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  12. King Crow

    The Native Americans should not have even applied for a permit. Being a soverign nation, they should be able to do what they want without the federal government, or the neive American's, having anything to say about it.

    March 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Andy

      Get real, your soverign nation is a scam and a sham.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Dan

      They aren't a "sovereign nation" not subject to US law. They are a "sovereign nation" within the borders of the USA, granted a certain degree of independence in conducting their internal affairs. Those affairs top at the border of federal and international law. We deal in the "hear and now" not the wishful thinking of embittered tribes.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • King Crow

      Thats pretty low buddy.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  13. Rick in CT

    Religious rights are very important and should be protected and respected – to a point. What if someone's religion involved sacrificing virgins? Perhaps my ancestors religion involved kiling Native Americans? Are there any limits on what people will be allowed to do in the name of religion? And like another poster said, it won't make their crops grow, it won't heal a sick person, it won't bring anyone back from the dead, etc. Find another way to exercise your beliefs. And maybe stop living in the past, and go forward with your lives and beliefs a little, just a little ???

    March 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  14. Andy


    March 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Drumcode

      Andy why don't you go stand in a corner and play with your peepee?

      March 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Mary

      I wrote to them and received no response.

      March 17, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  15. Andy

    Where is the almight PETA??? Protesting rats??

    March 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Mary

      I am done sending them money anyone else?

      March 17, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  16. Kansan

    They are going about this through legal channels. They are trying to uphold a tradition. They are asking about two birds of a species that is no longer endangered or threatened. They are wanting to do it responsibly.

    Honestly, as long as it is done responsibly under U.S. law and in accordance with their belifes as well, what's the problem? It's a free country. On top of that, and them being here before europeans, Native Americans helped us fight the british during the revolutionary war. It is as much a symbol to them and their culture as it is to ours, and they helped get ours started.

    The U.S. has done a lot wrong toward native americans no matter how one chooses to look at the situation. If they wish to kill two bald eagles (who are no longer endangered or threatened) and are willing to work with the government to prove they only intend to kill a small number (two) by going through legal chanels, why shouldn't we let them do it?

    I do think, however, that this is the first time I have seen the far left and far right in our country agree on something. THe far right doesn't like it because the bald eagle is an american symbol and see it as sacralige to kill one. The far left see it as being terrible to kill a bald eagle because they are forgetting they are no longer endangered or threatened, don't care if it's done with government oversite or not, and because the crazys in peta feel that animals should not be killed for any reasn ever.

    Religion should stay out of politics, folks. Look at the situation logicaly. Denying them this is wrong when you look at the information. They aren't talking about mass killing of bald eagles. They are talking about two for a religious ceremony and they've been more than patent about trying to get a permit to do it.

    If it where a turkey they where trying to kill for thanksgiving or something,, no one would have a problem with it (and turkeys at one time where suggested by Benjamin Franklen as a canidate for the national bird).

    March 16, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • RS

      as much as I DONT want to – I agree with you. But I dont appreciate you labeling anyone tied to peta as "crazies". I dont think there is anything crazy about people wanting to support life on this planet and oppose killing other life. There are extreme views on either side – and I dont agree with either – but just as liberals are very diverse, conservatives are diverse, black people are diverse, even drug users are diverse, its not fair to lump all PETA supporters as having the same mindset. I support MUCH of what they do but I am not a vegetarian – that probably blows your generalization right there.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Justin

      '(and turkeys at one time where suggested by Benjamin Franklen as a canidate for the national bird)'

      That's actually a myth. :p

      March 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • mary

      I agree with you, and I am a animal lover but even I have to draw the line. It seems the Indian tribes live for the land and because they have always used the eagle (and no cruelty) I have no problem with this. Now If hundreds of permits came in then I need to rethink what door was open. But Turkeys were a symbol at one time and look we celebrate there deaths. I don't eat animals any more but to each his own.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Sandy

      this is in response to RS's reply... remember when peta took on the happy cow commercials? the commercial was for dairy and we should by from CA dairy farmers because they have happy cows. now.... how crazy is THAT to request them to stop those commercials because "you can't prove a cow is happy".

      March 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Lulu

      There shouldn't be animal sacrifices for religious purposes, period. Is this really a door we should reopen? Where will it end? I'm tired of weak comments like "Peta crazies" to quiet people from speaking up against unnecessary animal cruelty. Anyone who doesn't think animals should be treated well and killed humanely for food has something morally wrong with them.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  17. Soldier of Fortunes

    I don't think the natives of Alaska will be too happy to hear that...they might tell them to find something else...they are very much into the animals and land and they are avid subsistence hunters...don't mess with them or their land...they are aggressive but in business, native corporations, and attorneys...so their battleground has moved into the criminal justice courtroom...and they might take this tribe on...wait and see...

    March 16, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      Alaska is Alaska. This tribe is in Wyoming. As long as they don't go up to Alaska to do their hunting, the Alaskans needn't get involved.

      March 16, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  18. RS

    I need to sacrifice mean people for my religion....Can I get a permit too?

    March 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  19. fkjasld

    I tend to agree with the Native Americans. We screwed them over and currently the eagle population is healthy. It was the white man using DDT, chemicals, traps, and shootings that almost did the eagle in. However, the State of Wyoming should of bartered for have two casinos built on their land for 50% of the profits. CNN, post the sacrific on youtube.

    March 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  20. LC

    I am part native American and I am also a federally permitted raptor rehabilitation specialist who has treated and released eagles back into the wild. It breaks my heart that a creature that I work so hard to save should be sacrificed. If, as they say, it flies higher and closer to the Creator then where is the respect for this? When I have an eagle carcass from a bird with a fatal injury I am REQUIRED to send it to the feather bank for harvesting. There is NO shortage of eagle feathers or talons to be had. I would like my brothers and sisters of other Indian tribes to show some respect for another culture's revered symbol – that would be the eagle, proud symbol of America!

    March 16, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
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About this blog

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.