Eagle feathers ruling for Native American tribes.
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.
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.
“This policy will help ensure a consistent and uniform approach across the nation to protecting and preserving eagles, and to honoring their cultural and spiritual significance to American Indians,” said Attorney General Holder. “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 with whom the United States shares a unique government-to-government relationship.”
The department is issuing this policy to address the concerns of tribal members who are unsure of how they may be affected by federal wildlife law enforcement efforts, and because of a concern that this uncertainty may hinder or inhibit tribal religious and cultural practices. 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 Department of Justice has taken a major step forward by establishing a consistent and transparent policy to guide federal enforcement of the nation’s wildlife laws in a manner that respects the cultural and religious practices of federally recognized Indian tribes and their members.”