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Conflicting Protection

When a group’s religious practices require the killing of a protected bird species, the result is a never-ending debate. Some Native American tribes use eagle feathers, heads and talons in certain ceremonies. (There are also many tribes that protect birds and think that endangered birds should not be killed.)

This debate is very tricky because you are taking two important issues: freedom of religion and protection of endangered species and one of them is not going to win.

A Wyoming man was arrested Friday for shooting a Bald Eagle for a sacred Sun Dance ceremony. He is a Northern Arapaho and believes that it was his religious duty and had no choice even though he knew it was illegal. (The shooting occured in March of 2005). A federal judge dismissed the charges, but the case will be appealed.

The government collects bodies of eagles that die naturally, and they also give out special permits for killing a Bald Eagle for religious reasons. But, according to a Washington Post article, few tribes are aware of the permits, and they can’t use the collected eagles because they aren’t fresh. (It can take up to 3.5 years to obtain one)

Protecting religious freedom is important, but not at the cost of the protection of our birds.

1 Comment

  1. February 20, 2007    

    Killing eagles for tribal ceremonies has less of an impact in the long run than habitat destruction, killing eagles as pests, poisoning waterways, etc. So killing an occasional eagle for native religious functions is probably acceptable within limits. Native Americans are not really the cause of the problem, anyway.

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