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AmigoKumeyaay 05-27-2015 06:53 AM

Lipan Apache Religious Freedom Case

The Lipan Apache Tribe: Eagle Feather Case


The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas in the case of Grace Brethren Church et al vs. U.S. Attorney General (USDC No.07-CV-60) and U.S. Department of Interior.

On Wednesday August 20, the court found that the U.S. Department of Interior does not have authority to prevent members of the Lipan Apache Tribe from using eagle feathers in their religious ceremonies. The tribe had appealed a district court ruling in October 2013 that upheld the Department of Interior’s action to confiscate eagle feathers from tribal members at a tribal gathering in March 2006. At the time, the tribe invoked the 1978 Native American Religious Freedom Act (NARFA) to recover the eagle feathers and to prevent prosecution of its tribal members.

The Department of Interior, represented by the U.S. Attorney General, argued that such protection was afforded only in certain circumstances to tribes that the U.S. Government has acknowledged as tribes.

The tribe argued that they enjoyed the rights guaranteed to them by NARFA because they were a tribe and because NARFA did not distinguish between state-recognized tribes like the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas and federally recognized tribes.

The Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas is the descendent tribe of confederated Eastern Apache bands that defended a homeland spanning from the Southern Great Plains in the U.S. to the Bolson de Mapimi in northern Mexico. Beginning in the early-1800’s, military pressure from the Spanish, Americans, and the Comanches and their allies forced some of these bands to consolidate under Chief Joseph Castro’s band of Lipans. In 2009, the Texas Senate and House of Representatives formally recognized the tribe as the historic tribe of Lipans of Texas.

The ruling on Wednesday grants members of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas the same rights enjoyed by all Native Americans under NARFA.

“It’s been a long hard fought battle that we just had to win,” said Tribal Council Vice-Chairman, Robert Soto, one of the tribal members whose eagle feathers were confiscated by Department of Interior officials, “Our backs were against the wall so we had to say the Lipans are still very much here and will still defend their way of life.”

AmigoKumeyaay 05-27-2015 06:59 AM

From Robert Soto: The Truth about this Case

Well, it has been an interesting seven and half year journey. Most of you have no clue as to why we filed the law suit. It started on March 11, 2006 when agents from the Department of Interior of the Fish and Game Department went to our powwow dressed as tourists and filmed and photographed all the dancers at the pow wow. A couple of hours later, an agent from the department came and invaded what we call a sacred gathering, our pow wow. The circle is a special place we not only dance, but it is a place of prayer, a place of ceremonies, a place of traditions and a place where we can just express ourselves as Native People.

While at the pow wow, I went to a booth outside the gym in the hall way and I noticed a man harassing my brother-in-law. As I got closer, he waved his badge and told me he was an agent of the Department of Interior, Fish and Game. Then he said to give him my two eagle feathers that I was wearing on my porcupine roach. The feathers that my brother-in-law had were mine. Before I knew it the federal agent tried to enter our circle in the gym. I stood in front of him to block him from going in. What happened next was the craziest excuse for violation of our circle that I had ever heard.

He said he had the right to enter into the circle because we had violated three federal laws that ceased the sacredness of the circle giving the United States Government the right to enter our circle and harass our dancers. He stated the laws we violated in the form of three questions.

He looked at me and said, "Are you a member of a Federally recognized Tribe. I said I was not so he said, "The law states that if you are not a member of a Federally reconized tribe, this is a violation of Federal Law and the circle ceases to be sacred."

Then he said, "Did you advertise the event in the newspaper?" as he waved a copy of the article we wrote with a picture and an invitation for the public to attend the pow wow. I said, "Yes." He then said, "Federal laws says that when a Native American advertises his event in the newspaper, the event ceases to be sacred giving us the right to come and do as we please."

Then he said, "Was there the exchange of money in the circle, like a raffle, fifty/fifty, cake walks, vendor's selling their crafts and did you honor a veteran by putting a dollar at his feet?" I said, "Yes." Then he said, "Federal law states that if there is the exchange of money in the circle, the circle ceases to be sacred thus giving us the right to come in and do as we please."

While he went to his truck to take away the beautiful traditional bustle my brother-in-law had made, I went in and warned all the Native people in the circle who had eagle feathers that the Feds would soon be in the circle and I would not be able to hold them back. All I could think about was Custer and the 7th Cavalry sneaking in and massacring our Native people all over again. The enemy came and struck our pow wow when we least expected.

An event made to celebrate and enjoy turned to chaos as our children ran with fear in their faces seeking their parents' protection from the Federal Government who, through their unjust laws, had violated a place that had always been sacred to our people, the Circle.

What would happen tomorrow if our churches or our civil organizations were closed because they advertised their service in the newspaper or because they took up an offering? I am writing this so that you can understand why I had to start this journey almost eight years ago and why I decided that I would fight this until the day I take my last breath.

AmigoKumeyaay 05-27-2015 07:14 AM

Operation Powwow
(Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz is the executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The views expressed here are her own.)

Feds Invade Native American Gathering, Grab Property, Threaten Jail

Each week, for many months, Pastor Robert Soto of the Lipan Apache tribe drove to the house of a terminally ill Pawnee woman. He attended to her at the behest of her daughter who knew her mother was struggling with the prospect of death. As he describes it, he helped her “prepare spiritually to face her Creator.”

In gratitude, after her mother died, the daughter gave Soto ten eagle feathers. Her mother had given her instructions to give them to Soto at the moment of her death to show her gratitude for his kindness.

Two of those feathers were among the dozens covert government agents confiscated during a family powwow in 2006 in an operation the Department of Interior called “Operation Powwow.”

The government justified its actions, and the covert operation, by claiming that two laws protecting migratory birds give them the right to enter Native American religious ceremonies and confiscate sacred eagle feathers. The government still insists on enforcing these laws even though eagles are no longer endangered and the Lipan Apache never kill eagles, as the tribe would consider it a form of sacrilege.

Pick Up a Feather, Go to Jail

Soto is an ordained religious leader of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. His tribe is recognized by historians, sociologists, and the State of Texas—but not by the federal government. Members of federally recognized tribes can possess feathers. But Soto cannot. Ironically, the government issues permits to multiple institutions—including power companies—to kill eagles but it will not allow Soto, or his fellow tribe members, to pick up feathers that fall on the ground as the eagles molt naturally.

Eagle feathers are an essential part of the religion Pastor Soto practices. He has been a feather dancer since he was eight years old, and understands deeply the sacred significance of eagle feathers to his tribe. In his words, “They are a physical manifestation of everything that is holy.” They are so sacred, in fact, that if one falls on the floor while he is dancing, the entire powwow must stop until he has picked it up, blessed it and restored it to its proper place.

Under the federal law used against Soto, it is a crime to possess any part of migratory birds found on an extensive list, including their feathers. The list doesn’t just include bald and golden eagles. It includes over 800 species of birds, including mourning doves, crows, and Canada geese.

That means any child who goes to a park and picks up a feather is in violation of federal law if he picks up a common goose or a duck feather and takes it home. However, one does not see covert agents sneaking around neighborhoods in an “Operation Park Patrol” to investigate children collecting feathers, playing with them, or using them in school projects.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

The government has now spent eight years fighting Soto in court. A few months ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Soto, and the government, stung by the court loss, tried to sweep everything under the rug by returning the feathers to Soto on March 10, 2015

Although Soto now possesses the feathers, the government still claims authority to enforce its feather ban against other members of Soto’s tribe. In addition, Soto himself cannot lend the feathers to anyone—not in his tribe and not in his own family. And when he dies, he expects the government will come knocking on the door to collect the feathers.

Covert agent operation? Government agent monitoring powwows? Feathers getting confiscated? Bizarre? Yes. On March 13, a Wall Street Journal editorial asked Secretary Jewell of the Department of Interior: “[C]an’t you find something better for these guys to do?” After all, Soto and his tribe shouldn’t need the government’s permission to practice their religion. That’s something we should all agree on.

The author’s employer, together with Baker Botts LLP and the Civil Rights Legal Defense and Educational Fund, legally represents Soto in this case.

wardancer 05-27-2015 10:46 AM

I know Robert and have visited him several times about this. It's been a long hard expensive fight and I'm glad it was resolved in their favor ! One should not be punished for giving family member feathers to use.
@LipanLady (Robert's sister), Tell Robert I said "Hi" and "Congrats" !

This whole case was a set-up deal to begin with.

wardancer 05-27-2015 10:57 AM

This is copied from The U S Fish & Wildlife website: http://www.fws.gov/le/pdf/Possession...sFactSheet.pdf

"Native Americans may give feathers
or other eagle items as gifts to other
Native Americans and may hand them
down within their families. They may
not, however, give them to non-Native

Now , the only problem I have with that is according to The U.S. Government , my children are no longer considered ndn because they are not "tribal members". So once again there will be a conflict to determine where to draw that line !

AmigoKumeyaay 05-27-2015 02:21 PM

Fish & wildlife native american policy 1994

Migratory Bird Permits; Religious or Spiritual Use of Feathers by Native Americans

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering amending its migratory bird regulations to allow Native Americans to acquire parts and feathers from birds other than eagles for religious or spiritual use. No current regulations govern the acquisition and possession of migratory bird parts and feathers of birds other than eagles for Native American religious or spiritual use. We have a compelling interest in protecting the traditional religious and spiritual resource values of Native Americans as part of our trust relationship with federally recognized Native American tribes. We recognize the need to balance this compelling reason against the equally compelling basis for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. We seek information necessary to prepare an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act and its implementing regulations for a possible proposed rule.

AmigoKumeyaay 05-27-2015 02:26 PM



We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), are the Federal agency with the primary responsibility for managing migratory birds. Our authority is based on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) (16 U.S.C. 703 et seq.), which implements conventions with Great Britain (for Canada), Mexico, Japan, and the Soviet Union (Russia). Activities with migratory birds are prohibited unless specifically authorized by regulation. Regulations governing the issuance of permits for migratory bird use are authorized by the MBTA and are found in title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, parts 10, 13, 21, and 22. According to 50 CFR 21.11, permits are required for most actions involving “any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such bird.”

The MBTA contains no express provisions regarding the religious/spiritual use of migratory bird feathers. However, we recognize the significance of the parts and feathers to Native American religious/spiritual practices under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (42 U.S.C. 1996; AIRFA), a policy statement issued by Secretary of the Interior C.B. Morton in 1975, and our 1994 Native American Policy.

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), passed in 1978, clarifies U.S. policy pertaining to the protection of Native American religious freedom. AIRFA acknowledges prior infringement on the right of freedom of religion for Native Americans and clearly states that laws passed for other purposes are not meant to restrict the rights of Native Americans.

The Morton policy statement provides Native Americans protection from Federal prosecution, harassment, or other interference for their possession, transport, use, donation, exchange, or loan of the feathers of federally protected species without compensation.

The Morton policy statement also protects Native Americans who wish to possess bird parts and/or feathers to be worked on by tribal craftsmen for eventual use in religious/spiritual activities and allows the transfer of parts and/or feathers to tribal craftsmen without charge.

Our 1994 Native American Policy states that we must expedite processing and distribution of animal parts to Native Americans. Between 1990 and 2000, our National Eagle Repository distributed eagle parts and feathers to enrolled tribal members. Regulations governing permits for use of eagle parts and feathers are in 50 CFR Part 22. The Repository also distributed migratory bird parts and feathers from birds other than eagles to enrolled tribes.

We conducted this distribution on an ad-hoc basis under the authority of 50 CFR 21.27, Special Purpose Permits, with no criteria or conditions specific to Native American religious or spiritual use. In 1999, we temporarily suspended distribution of non-eagle feathers, due to administrative resource constraints. We now intend to prepare an environmental assessment for a possible proposed regulation for the legal acquisition by Native Americans of non-eagle feathers for religious/spiritual use.

wardancer 05-27-2015 02:43 PM

I think this is already being done !

Southwest Region - NAL Feather Repositories

That is one , and the Comanches have a program also.


AmigoKumeyaay 05-27-2015 03:18 PM

They already had a national policy issued by the Interior Secretary, and their own 1994 Native American Policy.

This one raid "OPERATION POWWOW" against Robert Soto appears to be the work of a loose canon General Custer type wildlife agents that lacked proper supervision.

You get a few of these hyper-active types in law enforcement, managers like their productivity until Ship Hits The Fan.

What is also interesting is how religion can be cited to make the federal government operate with better efficiency,. LOL


gilisi 05-28-2015 12:52 AM

Hey guys.... that ruling was just made this year right?

....Regarding those feathers being returned to the Lipan Apache.....

gilisi 05-28-2015 02:24 AM

It's interesting how far the feds went to cause trouble for them folks.... I ain't surprised at all, but look at this quote... this was taken right off the U.S. Fish n Wildlife website regarding their policies...

"Native Americans may also legally
possess eagle feathers and parts acquired
through certain other means. Such items
include any owned before eagles were
first protected by Federal law (1940 for
bald eagles, and 1962 for golden eagles)
and feathers and parts passed down
within a family or received as gifts from
other Native Americans

gilisi 05-28-2015 03:27 AM


Originally Posted by wardancer (Post 1618183)
This is copied from The U S Fish & Wildlife website: http://www.fws.gov/le/pdf/Possession...sFactSheet.pdf

"Native Americans may give feathers
or other eagle items as gifts to other
Native Americans and may hand them
down within their families. They may
not, however, give them to non-Native

Now , the only problem I have with that is according to The U.S. Government , my children are no longer considered ndn because they are not "tribal members". So once again there will be a conflict to determine where to draw that line !

And when the feds call your kids non-native..... colonialist entitlement at it's finest SMH

wardancer 05-28-2015 12:56 PM


Originally Posted by gilisi (Post 1618207)
Hey guys.... that ruling was just made this year right?

....Regarding those feathers being returned to the Lipan Apache.....

Yep....well , last August....

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