Native Americans Defend Eagle Decapitation

Tribe Dismembered Bird For Religious Ceremony

A few weeks ago a hiker found a bald eagle that had been decapitated and dismembered near a trail in Boulder County.

The discovery set off a firestorm of controversy.

It turns out, the eagle was used in a ceremony by a Native American tribe.

Now, some Native American groups are troubled because people are questioning the use of bald eagles in ceremonies. The groups are calling for understanding and acceptance of the practice from other religious groups.

This particular eagle was used in three separate ceremonies. It was obtained legally through the federal repository and it was already dead when the tribe received it.

Darrell Pino is Navajo Indian and he is the man who applied to receive the eagle through the repository.

"This bird was given to me. We went through the whole process with the repository and it took about four years," said Pino. "And then we took it home and we took it apart respectfully. We didn't just tear into it."

At a news conference at the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Pino explained that after the ceremony, he wrapped the eagle in red cloth and placed the dismembered bird in a tree.

"It was placed in a tree as part of the ceremony to be buried that way," said Myron Pourier with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

"We placed the bird in a tree we thought others would not bother, but someone got curious," said Pino.

That discovery spurred all kinds of feedback about who would do such a thing. Local authorities didn't even seem to know it was all legal.

"American Indians are allowed to have and hold possession of eagle feathers and parts," said Ernest House, Jr. with the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. "They can apply for permits with the federal repository in Denver."

Native American advocates said the eagle is a centerpiece of their religion.

"This is the way we were raised. Just like Christianity and Catholicism," said House.

"These ceremonies are basically just like church. We dance and sing," said Pino.

Pino is just calling for understanding.

"We're always portrayed in a negative way and we just want to be equal," said Pino.

"Regardless of how different religions practice, we shouldn't hold this kind of negativity," said Pourier.

"We need certain parts of this bird to cleanse our system," said House. "The eagle soars the highest and carries our prayers to the creator."

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