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Old 06-21-2008, 12:16 AM   #11
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I'm not talking about the poaching. Poaching is poaching, and is always going to happen, no matter how legal or illegal it is to have eagle feathers. Every stripe of humanity under the sun will be involved in poaching, and every stripe of humanity under the sun will buy poached items. And if the animal or plant in question isn't illegal to hunt, then there's still always going to be someone who takes more than they should. Eagle poaching is not, and never will be, a solely Indian or non-Indian problem.

I'm talking about, in virtually all of my posts, of the sense of ENTITLEMENT we Natives have towards eagle feathers. As if just because these birds exist in our traditional cultures as spiritual items, and the Federal government obtains dead eagles, we have some sort of 'right' to them and the government should immediately fork the feathers over to us.

Is that how it works? Is that how we 'earn' items that are supposed to be so deeply meaningful to us?

Sorry, just because we're Indians, it doesn't mean we 'own' these birds. No one has a 'right' to them. If you had tried to say to my great-grandfather or grandmother that the Feds 'owe' us these birds--especially for the sake of constructing dance regalia!--they would have given you a very funny look indeed. I don't know that they would have even accepted a feather given to them that way... dropped in the mail and sent off to someone for no reason other than they're enrolled somewhere, and they happened to ASK for one.

These self-centered demands a lot of us are making about what the Federal government 'owes us' when it comes to eagle feathers, is what my problem is with. The laws are in place to protect the BIRDS. If we feel the laws make our religious lives more difficult, well, sorry, but I don't see that it matters. The birds' lives are more important, than whether or not we have easy access to their feathers.

When the birds do die, they DO hand those feathers out to Natives. What the hell more do we want from the government? They have laws to protect the birds, but they still do what they can to get those feathers into the Native community. It's win-win, as far as I can tell.

Virtually every article I've read about the repository, even on this website, makes us sound like spoilt little first-graders who were denied our morning pop-tart.

Eagle feathers are from the Creator--they are from our family and our elders. If they come our way, they do. Generally, you've got to earn them. From the FEDS, you just have to ASK for them.

So, I have a hard time listening to people whine about how they aren't getting the kind of feathers they want, in the numbers they want, in the time frame they want... from the FEDS, no less.

Does the fact that we're Indians, give us the right to talk this way about eagle feathers?

Seems to me that we should be the LAST people to speak of feathers this way.

I am aware of the fact that a lot of dancers give away eagle feathers. I'm not stupid (or blind), believe it or not... and yes, I've been in plenty of situations where I've witnessed folks giving away feathers.

I've given away plenty of the feathers that have come my way to people who were in need. My father received a bald eagle bustle to dance with (at the age of 67--first he'd ever had), and he broke it up and gave those feathers away (he kept only 4 for the trailer), because he felt it was wrong to pile up all those feathers in a bustle, when they could do other people more good, and he was just fine with other, non-eagle feathers instead. I have a friend who passes on every feather he ever receives, and has done so for over 40 years. That's the kind of community I belong to--a community where there are still a lot of older men who dance in OUR traditional clothing, and are proud to forego bustles altogether.

That's where *I'm* coming from.

But these aren't the kind of people who are 'hoarding' feathers. These aren't the kinds of people who are in the Feds' line, 5 times in a row, asking for whole eagles or 'comparable parts', so that they can make up a new bustle, or another bustle, or a second row for the one they already have, or so they can make up a bustle of 60 feathers to hand over to another (northern tradish dancin') friend of theirs.

As I said in my post on the other thread, there's a reason that so many, MANY eagle feathers are concentrated in the hands of just one dance category... and that's not because they're our 'warrior men', or because that's a 'traditional' look they just have to wear.

Find me a picture where these HUGE kinds of bustles are 'traditional'. Find me a description, even from amongst our own people, where these are traditional, spiritual requirements.

In times of plenty, well, why not? Be as excessive as you want to be.

In times of hardship for people who are trying to get feathers from the repository for spiritual ceremonies and gifting ceremonies, maybe it's time for some of these tradish dancers to step aside from asking for their third or fourth pair of wings, and let someone else get in the repository line. Maybe if we did that, we wouldn't have to be turning to the Federals for feathers at all.

In life, I don't question why any dancer does or doesn't have feathers, or the number they carry. Maybe that's what they saw themselves doing in a dream--maybe someone else dreamed of them in that outfit. Maybe they're dancing in feathers not only from their bustle, but also from the bustle of a relative who can't dance, or isn't here to dance anymore (although wouldn't those feathers honor that relative just as well, if you gave it away to others in need--and NOT just to yet another northern tradish dancer, either?)

However, just like you, when I see an arena full of eagle feathers dancing on northern tradish regalia, I feel pride. I think how beautiful it is. I don't sit there and think, "What an as*, he's got about 100 feathers on his outfit. Selfish pr*ck."

I assume, just as you do, that there's a reason for it. We each have our own calling to do what we do, and our own reasons for doing it, and it isn't someone else's place to get in our face about it (although it seems we're happy to get in someone's face that if the issue at hand is one WE have a personal problem with, of course).

I don't wander around at powwows confronting tradish dancers.

HOWEVER, and this is a damn big HOWEVER:

That doesn't mean that this issue doesn't still need to be talked about in our COMMUNITY.

You and I both know that there are folks out there who are more concerned about how they look, and whether they're going to win. They might pawn off a hundred reasons to themselves and others about why they're wearing all the feathers they are, but if they were to be honest with themselves, we all know it's purely for style. It's "what northern tradish dancers wear"--if they wanna win. If they wanna look 'cool'.

But feeling pride in seeing that regalia, pride on our part or theirs, doesn't make what current regalia styles demand, 'right'. It's gone out of control, because somewhere along the line there weren't folks who stood up and said, 'This is too much'.

The 'Look' itself, is contributing to the abuse. Why are we complaining about the shortage, and not thinking about trying to change that 'Look' ? Does EVERY male Northern Tradish Dancer need 80 or 100 feathers on his outfit? When the Feds supply us with that many feathers, is that when we're going to finally be happy about the repository program?

No matter how beautiful it is, I can still look at those dancers and understand that a lot of them slap on feathers here or there (like epaulettes or visors), because they saw someone else wearing it, and it looked 'cool'. It's got nothing to do with being a traditional item their outfit must have. It's just 'the Look'.

People need to learn to admit that, and stop with all this 'entitlement' they have to feathers, because their dance is 'traditional' and they 'need' them. We need to learn to start being honest with ourselves, first of all. I don't understand why it's so hard for us to do that. We act like it's all the White man's fault that we're in the situation we are, with a shortage of feathers for people who are seeking them.

Now, again, in times of plenty, why not wear all that get-up? Go ahead. No one's going hungry, if the featherin' times are good. If each and every one of us were passing along feathers in respectful ways, like we should be doing, I don't see why we'd even need to ask the Feds for anything.

I don't care how attached dancers have become to wearing a hundred feathers, or how attached we've become to seeing them in those feathers.

It's still not right. In a time of hardship and shortage, it's NOT right, and tradish dancers should be the first in line standing up to correct it. Aren't they supposed to be protecting the rest of us... protecting the welfare of the community? If someone doesn't have the feathers for a naming ceremony, or the feathers to put on a ritual calumet, it's a tradish dancer who should be stepping up to help them. Not the Federal government.

A lot do these things. And there are also a lot whom I've never known to pass on a single feather to anyone, unless they got tired of the feathers they had and wanted a newer, more 'exciting' looking outfit. Even then, some of these boys and men just add their old and new feathers together.

If he feels he can't help someone because it would involve taking apart some piece of his prized regalia... then that's a problem, and we need to be willing to admit, as INDIAN PEOPLE, that it's a problem. A serious one that has a lot deeper origin than simply whether or not the Feds are respectin' our need for feathers.

As for eap7's comment that it isn't our place as non-Northern tradish dancers, I don't agree with it.

Community censorship is the one way we Ndn's have always had, to correct those in our societies who, for whatever reason, have tended to overdo things, to go too far, to the harm of the others around them. Our communities censored those who were working for their own benefit, their own pride, rather than those of the community. If someone thought to do something wholly selfish, someone else, a lot of someone elses, would have tilted their heads and wondered what was going on. And that person would have been questioned about what they were doing, and why... in some tribes, gently. In other tribes, pretty harshly.

I merely think that right now, with feathers at such a premium, people need to stop getting in the Repository welfare line for that one more set of bustle wings, or that perfect tail for a dance fan, because a wing fan just isn't their look.

THESE are the dancers I am critical of, although I also see the cause-effect that comes about from a modern 'tradition' of huge bustles and eagle feathered accoutrements.

There are folks in that line who have genuine need of naming feathers, or veteran's feathers, etc, and they're not getting them because Joe Schmoe, tradish dancer, thinks he needs to give his 10-year-old son a full eagle bustle, or that his own bald eagle bustle would look a lot nicer if it had black tips instead. And a double row of them, at that!

If people want snazzy sh*t for their regalia, let them earn it from friends and family. A lot of dancers still do... why are we tolerating those who feel a need to abuse the repository system, and instead of criticizing them, we complain about what the FEDS are trying to do for us?

We're yelling at the wrong people, because why... ? We're afraid to look at our own faults? We're afraid to ask to these men dancers to change something they've become accustomed to wearing in MODERN times? We're afraid to ask them to think about wearing something a little smaller.. a little more respectful? We're afraid to walk up to a dancer and say, 'hey, dude... let's think about these 80 feathers you have on your outfit. Maybe we can do something a little better FOR OUR COMMUNITY, with say, 20 of them?"

There are tradish dancers who do exactly that. I have no problem with them.

But that doesn't erase the basic question of... are these huge bustles and epaulettes and visors and feathered staffs all really necessary?

Of course not. They just look cool.

Maybe if we could all start admitting that to ourselves, we could ALL start to solve this problem of folks not having the feathers they do, truly, NEED... for graduations, for childbirth, for namings, for veterans, for whatever ceremony it is folks need them for. Maybe then the folks in line at the repository wouldn't be waiting a year or two for their naming feather, because the tradish dancer is looking elsewhere for the 40 feathers he wants for his new bustle. Maybe he even decided that he doesn't need a new bustle, and what's more, he's okay with just 30, instead of 70.

If you and I, and everyone who's a member of the Ndn community, isn't willing to police ourselves anymore, and say 'eighty feathers an outfit, right now at this place in time, is going too far, guys--let's think about those who have none'--then who's going to do it?

Or are we gonna leave that to the Feds, too?

It's our job, as traditional people, to question these ever-growing regalias, and ask what they mean, morally, for our communities... and what it means for the true 'value' of the feathers themselves.

Now, I sound all heated in this post. But I'm not, really. It is just honestly how I feel, but I'm not out there ranting in people's faces on the powwow circuit.

I, too, still enjoy a good, stompin' northern tradish dance. Whether the regalia keeps growing, or simplifies down, I probably always will.

But I'll always understand that I'm looking at a dance increasingly geared for flashy show--'bling', as someone in another thread called it--and not tradition. And certainly not a dance geared for the benefit of communities suffering a shortage of eagle feathers for uses OUTSIDE the competitive powwow circuit.

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