NCAI Statement on DOJ Announcement of Department-wide Policy on Eagle Feather Use & Possession
Embassy of Tribal Nations – Washington, DC - On Friday October 12, 2012 the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a department-wide, internal policy regarding the enforcement of laws that affect the ability of members of federally recognized Indian tribes to possess or use eagle feathers. The new policy is the result of numerous consultations with tribal leaders, tribal nations, and individuals. The policy covers all federally protected birds, bird feathers, and bird parts.
In response the National Congress of American Indians released the following statement acknowledging the important step this policy represents:
“Eagle feathers are of great spiritual and cultural significance to many tribal nations and their citizens, and we view the Administration’s new policy as a positive step toward addressing the use and possession of these sacred items. We are hopeful that this policy will protect the rights of all Native peoples to practice their religion without fear of interference by federal officials,” said Robert Holden, Deputy Director of NCAI, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native advocacy organization. “After decades of confusion, this new policy clarifies the position of the federal government in a manner that strikes a more equitable balance between the rights of Native American practitioners and the preservation of eagles.”
NCAI has convened Eagle Feathers Work Group meetings with DOJ officials numerous times during the policy drafting stages, and in the coming weeks, the work group will take a thorough look at the new DOJ policy and its implications.
“In general, we anticipate this policy will be well received by the work group and Indian Country in general. It may well resolve some decades-old concerns and everyone who has played a role in the process—both on the tribal side and the federal side—should be commended for their efforts. We encourage continued review of the policy and urge the federal government to be very sensitive to religious freedom concerns when considering enforcement,” concluded Holden.
The DOJ policy provides that, consistent with the Department of Justice’s traditional exercise of its discretion, a member of a federally recognized tribe will not be subjected to federal prosecution for certain types of conduct (see below). The Department will continue to prosecute tribal members and non-members alike for violating federal laws that prohibit the killing of eagles and other migratory birds or the buying or selling of the feathers or other parts of such birds. The new policy makes clear that DOJ’s priority is on large-scale commercial cases and incidents of illegal poaching, not the every-day use and possession of eagle parts and feathers by tribal members.
The policy provides that, consistent with the Department of Justice’s traditional exercise of its discretion, a member of a federally recognized tribe engaged only in the following types of conduct will not be subject to prosecution:
• Possessing, using, wearing or carrying federally protected birds, bird feathers or other bird parts (federally protected bird parts);
• Traveling domestically with federally protected bird parts or, if tribal members obtain and comply with necessary permits, traveling internationally with such items;
• Picking up naturally molted or fallen feathers found in the wild, without molesting or disturbing federally protected birds or their nests;
• Giving or loaning federally protected bird parts to other members of federally recognized tribes, without compensation of any kind;
• Exchanging federally protected bird parts for federally protected bird parts with other members of federally recognized tribes, without compensation of any kind;
• Providing the feathers or other parts of federally protected birds to craftspersons who are members of federally recognized tribes to be fashioned into objects for eventual use in tribal religious or cultural activities.
About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit http://www.ncai.org