Two hundred and twenty years ago in 1782, the American bald eagle became an icon when Congress used its image on The Great Seal. In 1789, it was officially recognized as America's national bird and even today, the bald eagle's majestic strength epitomizes what the US stands for.
Decimated by hunting, pesticides and habitat loss, by 1940 the bald eagle was in trouble until it was afforded protection under the Bald Eagle Protection Act. This act outlawed the killing or disturbing of eagles and banned the possession of parts of the raptor such as feathers, eggs and nests.
Today Fox News reported
, "the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has taken the unusual step of issuing a permit allowing an American Indian tribe in Wyoming to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes."
The move followed on the heels of a 2011 Northern Arapaho Tribe federal lawsuit brought against the federal agency, for the denial of permits. Tribe members believe the agency violated religious freedoms, others felt the claim by the Arapaho tribe was simply an exercise in sovereignty.
Gary Collins, a Northern Arapaho tribal member who serves as liaison between the tribe and the Wyoming state government, told the AP
, "I think that's the issue with the eagle case."
But the move by USFWS, is another step in a bitter legal fight that has raged back and forth since 2005, when Native American Winslow Friday, illegally shot and killed a bald eagle for use in his tribe's annual Sun Dance.
Andy Baldwin, the Arapaho Tribe's lawyer, said he hopes the current suit will "prevent any young men like Winslow Friday from being prosecuted in the future for practicing their traditional religious ceremonies."
Although eagles were and still are protected, poaching is not uncommon. In 2009, Ricky Sam Wahchumwah, of Granger, Wash.; Alfred L. Hawk Jr., of White Swan, Wash.; William Wahsise, of White Swan, Wash.; and Reginald Dale Akeen, also known as J.J. Lonelodge, of Anadarko, Okla. were arrested for killing and selling
bald and golden eagles and other protected birds.
With a potential wingspan of seven to eight feet, and a dive speed of 100 miles an hour, the eagle has been an important symbol or icon for several entities throughout history. From coats-of-arms to emblems, the Romans bore the eagle on the standards of their armies, and Spanish Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, used the bird in part of their royal shield.
In Native American culture, the American Eagle Foundation
"Most all Native American Indian Peoples attach special significance to the Eagle and its feathers. Images of eagles and their feathers are used on many tribal logos as symbols of the Native American Indian. To be given an Eagle feather is the highest honor that can be awarded within indigenous cultures."
Currently, enrolled members of federally recognized tribes may apply to receive and possess eagle
feathers from the National Eagle Repository
for religious purposes. Members often argue that parts gleaned from repositories are rotten.
According to USFWS
, the bald eagle continues to "be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act even though it has been delisted under the Endangered Species Act." Even though the eagle was removed from the list in 2007, the Act requires the species to be monitored for at least 5 years afterwards, the agency said.