Although the bald eagle recently was removed from the
endangered species list, the laws regulating the possession of the bird’s
feathers are still in place.
Both the bald and the golden eagle still are protected by
the federal act that bears their names: the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection
Act also known as the “Eagle Act” as well as the Migratory Bird
Passed in 1940, the Eagle Act prohibits the “take;
possession; sale; purchase; barter; offer to sell, purchase, or barter;
transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead,
including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit.”
Eagle feathers, however, have had spiritual significance to
American Indian tribes long before the federal government began passing acts.
So in the 1970s, the National Eagle Repository was established to provide
feathers of bald and golden eagles to tribal members for ceremonial purposes.
“Legally, you have to apply for eagle feathers through
the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife,” said Kelly Anquoe, a member of
the Kiowa tribe who is certified to possess eagle feathers.
“You can apply for the feathers, or you can apply for
an entire eagle. I applied for an entire eagle, and it came in a box about 3
1/2 feet long, with the eagle on ice.”
To apply for an eagle, or the feathers, a person must have a
Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, and be a registered member of a
federally recognized tribe.
Eagle feather owners also have to have the certification
they receive from the federal wildlife service when they receive their eagle or
The eagle carcasses are stored at the National Eagle
Repository in Colorado, and are provided by state, federal, and tribal agencies
that find dead eagles.
Orders are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, and
waiting periods can vary from approximately three months for miscellaneous
feathers to approximately four years for a complete carcass of the most
sought-after eagle an immature golden eagle.
Anyone who possesses an eagle feather, and doesn’t meet the
requirements, could face fines up to $100,000 and a year in prison. A second
offense is upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony, and carries a maximum
penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The act also provides for a
civil penalty of up to $5,000.
Under the Migratory Bird Act, killing an eagle is a
misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $15,000 fine.
“You’re not allowed to sell or trade (eagle feathers
that are legally obtained), and legally, anyone you give them to has to be
certified to have them,” said Anquoe. “I myself do not like the sell
or trade of eagle feathers, so I agree with the law, but I’m sure other Indians
He said the sale and trade of feathers is quite common.
“It’s not even the bald eagle feathers that are the
most popular items in the underground feather market,” Anquoe said.
“It’s the feathers from the immature golden eagle. They’re the ones you
see that have a base and quill that are white and a black tip.
“A lot of Indians look down on the bald eagle because
they say it eats carrion. A golden eagle will eat carrion, too, if it gets real
hungry,” he said. “But the bald eagle is not really revered as much
as the golden eagle.”
Many of the eagle feathers on the illegal market, he said,
aren’t actually taken from dead eagles. They’re picked up off the ground in
areas like northwest Arkansas, where commercial chicken houses are common.
A couple of eagles will get into a tussle over which one
gets to feast on an unfortunate chicken, and leave a few of their own feathers
on the ground. Those feathers are then retrieved by people who, at that point
whether they know it or not are violating federal law.
Also, Anquoe added, eagle feathers aren’t the only highly
regarded plumage. The feathers of other birds protected by the Migratory Bird
Treaty Act like hawks and “anhingas,” which are water birds are often
traded illegally, too.
“I’ve had Navajos approach me and offer to trade me a
whole bald eagle for 50 scissortail feathers,” he said. “They use
them to make fans they use in the Native American Church.”
According to Anquoe, some American Indians have had eagle
feathers taken away from them by federal agents who attended powwows just for
that purpose: to bust illegal feather owners.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the eagle
feather laws,” Anquoe said. “A lot of people think you just have to
have a CDIB card to have them, but you have to go through the whole application
– Associated Press
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