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Old 01-01-2005, 09:28 PM   #1
Mato Winyan
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Fight focuses on who can use eagle feathers

Fight focuses on who can use eagle feathers

By The Associated Press
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com

SALT LAKE CITY A battle is brewing over the rights of white people
who practice American Indian religion to use federally restricted
eagle feathers in ceremonies.

Two federal statutes the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and
Golden Eagle Protection Act limit the right to have the feathers to
members of federally recognized tribes. The feathers are the most
powerful objects in the culture's ceremonies, and tribal members are
required to earn the right to handle them.

Many tribal members, backed up by the federal government, say
feathers and other eagle parts should be reserved for American
Indians as a way of preserving the culture.

"Some [white people] may marry into Native American tribes or have a
fascination or even a sincere interest to be more knowledgeable, but
they shouldn't be able to legally possess the feathers," said Nino
Reyos, a Ute and Pueblo who lives in Salt Lake City.

But two non-Indian Utah residents, Raymond Hardman and Samuel Ray
Wilgus Jr., claim they have a religious right to use the feathers in
sacramental activities. The federal laws allow enrolled tribal
members to get a permit to possess eagle feathers and parts.

The items are either passed down from tribal elders or obtained from
the National Eagle Repository, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service.

Wilgus, who said he is an adopted member of the Paiute Indian Peak
Band, was convicted of possessing 141 eagle feathers without a permit
in 1998. Feathers given to Hardman as a gift by a Hopi leader in
Arizona were seized in 1996, and he was found guilty of violating
federal law.

Both appealed, and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver
eventually sent their cases back to Utah to determine whether the
restrictions violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The act
holds that religious practices must be accommodated unless a
compelling governmental interest can be demonstrated. Decisions in
the cases are pending.

"I don't think government should be in the business of telling who
can or cannot worship in a particular religion," said Cindy Barton-
Coombs, Hardman's lawyer.

Indians fear an already long wait for feathers could get longer if
non-Indians are allowed to use them. Applicants routinely wait three
to four years for a whole eagle, including beaks and talons.
__________________
"We see it as a desecration not only of a mountain but of our way of life. This is a genocidal issue to us. If they kill this mountain, they kill our way of life." ~Debra White Plume
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