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Old 06-16-2005, 01:34 AM   #1
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eagle feathers for powwow money

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JUNE 10, 2005

CBC News
Duncan McCue

The eagles of North America are a threatened -and protected- species, but
someone out there doesn't seem to care.

Thegolden eagle of the American Plains wasalmost wiped out last century,
thanks to egg-thinning pesticides, loss of habitat and government-sanctioned
'vermin hunts.' Its cousin, thebald eagle (found more along coastlines) was
threatened too.
Both the United States and Canada responded by making the eagles, the
embodiment of potent religious and national symbolism, protected species; both the
U.S. andCanada enacted tough laws carrying stiff penalties for anyone caught
threatening the birds.
Earlier this year,those laws failed. Back in February, as many as 50 bald
eagleswere found butchered andburied in shallow graves near two native reserves
north of Vancouver. Their wings, heads, tails and talons had been cut off.The
case remains unsolved.
Deep inside the U.S. military's old rocky mountain arsenal in Colorado sits a
safety deposit box containing eagle parts: feathers, talons, beaks... It is
called theNational Eagle Repository, and it functions essentially as an eagle
The eagle feathers are guarded like gold; a single feather can fetch as much
$100 on the black market.
David Hancock, a biologist, has studied eagles and native issues for more
than 50 years. For Hancock, the B.C. eagle slaughter wasn't so much a 'whodunit'
mystery, as a mystery of 'who wants it?': "Where were these eagles' parts
headed, and why? Investigators here said the parts were bound for Native Americans
in the Southwestern United States for religious and ceremonial use... We
thought we'd try to find out ourselves, to see if we could follow the eagle parts
According to Hancock, the eagle parts pipeline feeds a commercial market -
not a religious one.
"The suggestion that the bald eagles' feathers and their parts, their heads
and their feet, are being used for religious purposes is a crock," he insists.
"The tradition was always that the headdresses, the bustles, these were the
feathers of golden eagles."
Now, however, bald eagle feathers have been incorporated into the
headdresses, despite the fact that "there's no religious significance" for using bald
eagle features in Native American cultures, says Hancock. "The demand now is
being driven by the powwow circuit," he charges. "It is demanding these feathers
from our west coast eagles, and it's the powwow circuit that unfortunately
drives this market onwards."
One of the top powwows in North America occurs at Stanford University, just
south of San Francisco. For three days, people flock to theStanford Powwow for
singing, dancing and drumming.
But the event is more social than spiritual. Thousands of dollars in prizes
are at stake. The spectacular outfits worn by participants count almost as much
as the performances. Eagle feathers are everywhere. Jerome Tsinnajinnie, 25,
dances with feathers given to him by his father. He's in the Men's Northern
Traditional competition, despite the fact that he's from the southwest, and
"This style of dance is not really my original style," he says. "This comes
from the Plains Indians up north, South Dakota into Canada. My style of dance
we do for ceremonies, which is totally different to this. But this is what I
grew up as, because now it's all over Indian country."
Like many competitors, Tsinnajinnie has embraced what's becoming a pan-Indian
look: the quest to be the dancer with the most eagle feathers.
Matt Snipp is also in the crowd. He's Cherokee and Choctaw - and the chair of
Native American Studies at Stanford. Snipp refutes the notion that Native
Americans would ever buy eagle feathers on the black market - the feathers are
simply viewed with such esteemed reverence, that' not a possibility:
"Indian people are easy targets. They possess these [feathers]; they're not
shy about showing people that they own them, that they have them. This is part
of their traditional culture... They're the most immediate people to blame,
but I think the people who have done that, I think aren't aware of the extent of
the trade you have in Indian artifacts in Europe as well as in this country."
German Dziebel, a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at
Stanford, has been exploring the lesser-known side of the European love affair with
North American Indian culture. Dziebel says powwows are not celebrations
confined to North America's borders. There are Russian, Polish and German powwows,
attended by what Dziebel calls "Euro-Indians" or "Indianists" - Europeans
seeking a simpler life. He's quick to add that these Europeans are not seeking
illicit eagle feathers:
"They are poor in eastern Europe. They don't really have much money, you
know. They try to make all their attire with their own hands... So it also has to
have a spiritual component to it; if you want to be a real Indian, you have to
do everything with your own hands... trade is not the best way to do [that]."
Which brings this story full-circle, back to the National Eagle Repository
outside Denver, Colorado. TheU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gathers up all of
the dead eagles it can find (most have died from collisions with cars, as a
result of unlawful shooting and trapping, or from natural causes).
The service then parcels out the pieces to Native Americans (the only
Americans who can legally possess them) who've signed up on the repository's waiting
list. Most applicants want a whole bird, and they'll wait three and a half
years to get it.
It's that long wait that's likely fueling the eagle parts black market, says
Gary Mowad, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Special Agent in the Rocky Mountains
region. Mowad points the blame back towards the powwow circuit:
"From the cultural and the religion aspect, we don't have an issue. But for
the folks who are willing to set their cultural and religious beliefs aside and
actually unlawfully purchase eagle feathers and eagle parts in hopes of
enhancing their chances to win money, well, then we certainly do have an issue."
B.C. eagle expert David Hancock says the problem begins back at theNational
Eagle Repository. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collected all the dead
carcasses of both golden eagles and bald eagles, and they then turned these over
to the natives," he says. "The natives have now started to incorporate bald
eagles into these big headdresses. Now this was not traditional, it has nothing
to do with religious ceremony, but it has created an artificial demand for
bald eagle feathers.
"Now, unfortunately, here on the West Coast, our bald eagle feathers, our
bald eagles, are being shot to provide feathers for the powwow circuit."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees that may be the case, though it is
in a bind: it needed to find some way to satisfy the demand for eagle
feathers; using bald eagle parts seemed like a natural solution. But now they admit
they've created a bottleneck - supply simply can't meet demand.
Meanwhile, there's no shortage of native and non-native buyers eager to fork
over cash for eagle parts. That means bald eagles in Canada, the masters of
the sky, aren't safe from one very dangerous predator: anyone bent on making a
quick buck.


Duncan McCue
CBC News

Earlier this year, conservation officers in British Columbia discovered the
remains of scores of dead and mutilated bald eagle carcasses. (CBC News)


Times Seven does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the
external links posted below. Times Seven does not necessarily agree with nor has
it verified the accuracy of information linked to. External links will open
in a new window.
Canada: Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and
Interprovincial Trade Act
U.S. Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940
National Eagle Repository
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Stanford Powwow
Eagle slaughter called 'worst ever' - CBC News
American bald eagle no longer endangered - CBC News
Suspect identified in case of mutilated eagles - CBC News

A British Columbia police officer examines the remains of several bald eagles
discovered in North Vancouver.
(CBC Television News)

An eagle carcass is processed at theNational Eagle Repository, near Denver,
(Times Seven)

Eagle feathers are guarded like gold at the repository; they’re worth as much
$100 for a single feather on the black market.
(Times Seven)


No one knows exactly how many bald eagles there are in North America.
Estimates range as high as 75,000.
About 20,000 of them live in British Columbia.
In the lower 48 states, just 8,000 have bounced back from near extinction.
The U.S. government feels that's enough toremove the eagles from the
endangered species list.
They will, however, remain protected under theMigratory Bird Treaty Act and
theBald and Golden Eagle Protection Act - protected, so long as humans don't
ignore those laws that is.

Copyright © Times Seven | 2005
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