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Keeping The Sacred in Sacred Traditions

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  • Keeping The Sacred in Sacred Traditions

    Keeping the “Sacred” in Sacred Traditions

    Eagles and eagle feathers have been a hot topic in the news across the continent lately. Sadly, the news has been as much bad as good. While eagle populations are slowly recovering, not all is going well for this majestic bird.

    Many of the headlines are about the massacre of at least fourteen eagles in Canada, the court battle of a non-Indian new-age spiritual group to gain the right to hold eagle parts for ceremony, and the prosecution of a native man for selling eagle parts across the country.

    To Native American peoples in every location where eagles are indigenous, they are a revered animal. The greatest gift and honoring one can receive in our cultural way is to be given an eagle feather, feathers, or other part, such as a talon.

    Eagles are a protected species because of their near extinction in recent decades. As the Americas became more and more populated, eagles and other wildlife were decimated by the effects of pesticides like DDT, and the bullets of farmers and ranchers who perceived them as a threat to crops and livestock. Immigrants to the Americas treated the eagle much like they did the indigenous peoples themselves. They didn’t understand them, and so they didn’t like them, and so they sought to eliminate them…national symbol of freedom or not.

    The vast majority of native ceremonies did not and still do not require that an eagle’s life be taken. Like all birds, the eagle molts, shedding its beautiful feathers. Like all hunting animals, the eagle fights among its own for territory, and birds sometimes die in these struggles for dominance.

    A more recent cause of mortality for the eagle is power lines and automobiles. They also die of starvation and loss of habitat. Even eco-tourism can have a devastating effect, as eager viewers crowd feeding eagles and force them into flight, expending precious energy reserves and disrupting their hard-won meals.

    So, how could a bird of such enormous spiritual value be worth more dead than alive? It’s very simple. As long as there are people willing to pay money for feathers and parts, there will be people willing to kill eagles.

    What is wrong with the scenario goes far deeper than the slaughter of endangered and protected species for profit, however. What is wrong with this picture has a spiritual root.

    If the eagle is sacred to us, we need to carefully examine what that means. Does it mean that we should have as many eagle feathers as we can, or does it mean that the way we obtain them is as important as the feathers themselves?

    Is an object still sacred, and can it offer us any power, strength, medicine or vision, if it was purchased from someone who sells sacred objects for a living? If we believe that the medicine of the eagle is more than just its physical parts, isn’t it possible that participating in such a transaction might actually bring us bad medicine?

    Contest powwows are thought to be one of the reasons the black market in eagle parts is reaching new heights, along with European collectors, and new-age religious groups who claim they have as much right to possessing eagle parts for ceremony as indigenous peoples do. Hopefully, for the sake of the birds and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, the law will continue to recognize the true spiritual connection between the people of this land and its sacred places and inhabitants.

    It makes me think of something I was told once, a number of years ago, by a man who poured water for a sweat lodge. He always reminded that our elders had died to keep these sacred ways alive, and how fortunate we were to have them. But he also said something else.

    “The medicines have a way of taking care of themselves” he would sometimes tell us. He would offer a story of how someone who stole an object or did something in a bad way later suffered the consequences. He told us that, in this way, the sacred traditions sometimes protected themselves.

    We must each come to our own understanding of what sacred is, and assume responsibility for our own actions. We cannot somehow stand apart from this, no matter who we are, no matter how humble or how famous. There is no divine excuse that shelters us from the cause and effect relationship of our actions.

    Each of us has a personal feeling and understanding about our relationship to the eagle; about what we deserve and should be allowed to have, about how we should conduct ourselves in the presence of eagle feathers, about what their medicine is and how it affects us.

    This is what I have learned and come to believe.

    People who are a part of the indigenous community, who act in a good way, who live as close as they can to the traditional ways of generosity and selflessness, will be recognized. They will receive feathers.

    If these people dance, and they need items for their regalia, those will come to them. If they deserve the honoring that the gift of a sacred feather brings, it will come about. In turn, they will eventually do the same for someone else, and pass on some of the feathers that have been shared with them.

    Getting feathers should take time. If the Eagle is sacred, if our ways are sacred, than they should not be handed down and passed on lightly. It should take time for you to develop into a human being worthy of holding a sacred object. It should require more than a single act of generosity, courage, fortitude or strength. Do not think in terms of what you are going to get, but of what you have to give to others.

    People who were not raised in a native household, and some who were, will need to be taught about caring for feathers, preferably before they are given one of significance. Otherwise, they may treat a feather in a way that offends people, and is offensive to that animal’s spirit. Feathers and other sacred items need to be gifted with thought and care.

    Walking a good walk is its own reward. Trust that many blessings will come into your life, not because you desire them, but because you attract them, over time and through adversity, by doing the best you can without seeking recognition for your deeds.

    Our traditional ways are kept sacred by the actions of those who practice them. Humble humans though we may be, imperfect as we are, we walk a sacred path. If we walk it in a good way, it will not go un-noticed. We will receive the honoring of sacred gifts, and they will be given to us in a traditional way.

    Finally, in all earnestness, if you need a large bustle and you haven’t got an eagle, consider the turkey. This is a traditional bird for a number of south-eastern tribes. Its barred, multi-colored, numerous feathers create striking regalia with an old-time quality; one that stands out in an arena crowded with eagle fans and eagle bustles. Perhaps most importantly, if the turkey were again as popular as it once was, the eagle population would see some small amount of relief in at least one circle.

    We may not be able to control the actions of the poachers, or the collectors, or the newly enlightened non-Indians who wish to have the same rights to eagles as native people do. We do have the power and the responsibility to make certain that our own actions do not further contribute to the demise of the eagle. We are capable of influencing others by our own right actions…by walking our talk, and keeping it sacred.

    By Corina Roberts, Founder, Redbird
    P.O. Box 702, Simi Valley, CA 93062
    (805) 217-0364
    E: [email protected]
    August 2005

  • #2
    very nice!
    "So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

    When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."



    • #3
      Well said too.
      Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic


      • #4
        well said

        Boozhoo niji,

        Redbird, I agree with what you say, every word of it. It makes me think of things that should be more important in my life.

        I try to follow the sacred road within the limits that were given to me when I was born. I was raised away from my traditions, and I am having to learn everything, at a distance. The manitous are what guide me the most. I see them in my dreams, and everyday. I listen to the things that go on all around me. I let it guide my decisions, what I wear in my dance outfit, and I can say in doing this there are rewards.

        I have seen people selling things that we consider are sacred. I stay away from those people like that. I dont try to stop what they are doing, I know what is being done will be taken care of in some way. It is not for me to judge whether a persons actions are wrong or not. I am not sure if this is the correct attitude or not, but so far I have not had anything negative come from my decisions. I would definately change my attitude if I saw someone selling eagle feathers. It is in our legends, the Anishsinaabe, that Gitchie Manitou decreed migizi, the bald eagle as a elder and a teacher, and that her feathers, parts, and even her image are all sacred.

        Since that is true, then even a picture of an eagle, or an eagle feather is a sacred thing and not to be taken lightly. It is my advice then, that if someone wants to carry that kind of medicine, and cannot obtain the feathers, then they should make something that looks like an eagle. If they made some beadwork that looked like an eagle, to me that would mean as much as a feather, perhaps more, because it shows that a person would work to carry that medicine. You can look at a feather and wonder if it was gifted, or bought, but you see the beadwork and can know that the person more than likely did it themselves.

        I believe in something I want to believe, not what someone wants me to believe.


        • #5
          and since we are on the subject

          Boozhoo niji,

          It sickens me sometimes to see some of the stuff I find online. Here are two examples of what we have been talking about...

          If the links no longer work, I will tell you what they are for. One is a lot of pipe bowls for sale on ebay, and the other is a complete pipe. These are believed to be artifacts. These are but two of many many things that are going on ebay at the time of this writing. White people are getting rich off of these things that meant so much to us.

          How does that make you feel?

          I believe in something I want to believe, not what someone wants me to believe.


          • #6
            Originally posted by crazywolf
            Boozhoo niji,

            It sickens me sometimes to see some of the stuff I find online. Here are two examples of what we have been talking about...



            If the links no longer work, I will tell you what they are for. One is a lot of pipe bowls for sale on ebay, and the other is a complete pipe. These are believed to be artifacts. These are but two of many many things that are going on ebay at the time of this writing. White people are getting rich off of these things that meant so much to us.

            How does that make you feel?

            Thats kinda cold they can sell the pipes like a piece art.
            Asema Is Sacred
            Traditional Use, Not Misuse
            Wakan Tanka please have compassion on me.
            OK Niji we are running a train with red over yellow at this powwow.


            • #7

              Two things- The Turkey is also sacred and tradish for us- the Wampanoag and I would venture to generalize NorthEast. Don't be ashamed of a beautiful turkey plume!

              2. Just as i read about the pipes on ebay this ad loomed above-

              Indian Sweat Lodge Sale
              New & used Indian Sweat Lodge Check out the deals now!

              That makes me feel alienated from non-indians, anxious, and generally
              Whut tha?

              will they ever understand?


              • #8
                I think that takes the cake

                I've heard of a lot of things for sale that shouldn't be. I think selling sweat lodges takes the cake though. And since I've never been in a lodge that wasn't covered with old blankets, rugs and carpet pieces, I have a really hard time imagining what one would look like if you purchased it. And how would you keep the willow soft enough to bend? I guess you could cut them to order. I suppose it would come with assembly instructions too. Nope...some people just don't get it, or they get the part about people being hungry enough for a spiritual experience that they would buy a sweat lodge...and that's where their understanding ends.

                Spiritual folks usually aren't your go-getters...and the go-getters usually aren't very spiritual. The two personality traits would appear to be mutually exclusive in most people.


                • #9
                  kind of a tongue in cheek here....... but maybe this is where them dudes that died in the sweatlodge got it from.... i wonder does it come with instructions??????
                  i agree with what is being said in this thread...... ironically it hits home in a major way...... iwas raised apart from my culture and this year my daughter wants to don her regalia for hte first time........ although i try to walk a good red road i too have my days........ but i abstain from most vices (coffee and cigarettes are the only two i really indulge in) and it has been hard teaching her about the sacredness of specific things like eagle feathers........ especially when she looks at me and says things like "well at that little store we saw in barrie they sell eagle feathers - lets just go buy one" when i picked myself up off floor from that comment i AGAIN had to explain to her the significance of this gift...... you don't just go buy it......... it scared me actually...... to think my message was goin right over her head........ but a few days later......... she had been doing some research and talking to some people it appears .......... she came back with a wonderful story of a little boy who offered up tobacco to the eagle flying overhead........ seems she got it after all.!
                  May you move all of your mountains, and disturb the peace by adding to it.


                  • #10
                    When it's not their spirituality or they are unaware of what it means.. then it does'nt take a cold person to sell something that is of spiritual value to one of us. The seller of the pipe and pipe bowls probably has no clue what that means to some of us... to him it IS just art.
                    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic


                    • #11
                      The problem is when others see the Eagle or other birds flying, they just see birds. We see our winged brothers, those who carry our prayers and fly closer to the spirits. I hope to one day be honored with an Eagle feather, but if I don't my life will still be complete. While in Iraq, I would use whatever feathers the spirits would bring my way. I figured that even though they were feathers from our winged brothers from another country, they are still our brothers and held power for me. I was lucky enough to come home with all my parts still intacted. One of my proudest moments came when I was at a small pow wow in Virginia, as I was leaving, I saw an Eagle feather lying on the ground where it had fell off someone. I knew I should leave it alone so someone could get it with the proper ways, but I felt that if I did, someone who didn't care would take it. So I talked to the feather and explained why I picked it up and then returned it to the pow wow circle for it to find it rightful owner. It made me feel good to see it return to that person.


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