Friday, October 12, 2012

Eagle Feathers OK For Native Tribes

Justice Department Announces Policy on Tribal Member Use of Eagle Feathers
The Department of Justice announced today a policy addressing the ability of members of federally recognized Indian tribes to possess or use eagle feathers, an issue of great cultural significance to many tribes and their members. Attorney General Eric Holder signed the new policy after extensive department consultation with tribal leaders and tribal groups. The policy covers all federally protected birds, bird feathers and bird parts.

The policy provides that, consistent with the Department of Justice’s traditional exercise of its discretion, a member of a federally recognized tribe engaged only in the following types of conduct will not be subject to prosecution:

· Possessing, using, wearing or carrying federally protected birds, bird feathers or other bird parts (federally protected bird parts);

· Traveling domestically with federally protected bird parts or, if tribal members obtain and comply with necessary permits, traveling internationally with such items;

· Picking up naturally molted or fallen feathers found in the wild, without molesting or disturbing federally protected birds or their nests;

· Giving or loaning federally protected bird parts to other members of federally recognized tribes, without compensation of any kind;

· Exchanging federally protected bird parts for federally protected bird parts with other members of federally recognized tribes, without compensation of any kind;

· Providing the feathers or other parts of federally protected birds to craftspersons who are members of federally recognized tribes to be fashioned into objects for eventual use in tribal religious or cultural activities.

Federal wildlife laws such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act generally criminalize the killing of eagles and other migratory birds and the possession or commercialization of the feathers and other parts of such birds. These important laws are enforced by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and help ensure that eagle and other bird populations remain healthy and sustainable.

At the same time, the Department of Justice recognizes that eagles play a unique and important role in the religious and cultural life of many Indian tribes. Many Indian tribes and tribal members have historically used, and today continue to use federally protected birds, bird feathers or other bird parts for their tribal cultural and religious expression.

The department first announced it was considering formalizing a policy on eagle feathers in October 2011 and sought tribal input at that time. The department held formal consultations with tribal leaders in June, July and August 2012.

“From time immemorial, many Native Americans have viewed eagle feathers and other bird parts as sacred elements of their religious and cultural traditions,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“The Justice Department’s policy balances the needs of the federally recognized tribes and their members to be able to obtain, possess and use eagle feathers for their religious and cultural practices with the need to protect and preserve these magnificent birds,” said Donald E. “Del” Laverdure, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

“This policy helps to clarify how federal law enforcement goes about protecting these special birds and also should reassure federally recognized tribal members that they do not have to fear prosecution for possessing or using eagle feathers for their religious and cultural purposes,” said Brendan V. Johnson, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota and the Chairman of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.

The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute tribal members and non-members alike for violating federal laws that prohibit the killing of eagles and other migratory birds or the buying or selling of the feathers or other parts of such birds.

photo credit: Juan Iacruz

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