For over a year the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) worked with the National Congress of America Indians (NCAI) Eagle Feather Task Force reviewing proposed changes in the policies regulating access to eagle feathers by American Indians. This has been an issue of great concern as there have been reports of the confiscation of ceremonial, heirloom, honor, and regalia feathers by law enforcement officers. Tribal citizens have reported harassment and intimidation by law enforcement over their possession of feathers. Raids to seize feathers and eagle parts during ceremonial and social events have created a climate of fear.
During the process of review, numerous meetings were held and listening sessions were conducted. Many points of contention between federal practice and tribal concerns were addressed and consensus was reached. However, one important issue consistently raised by tribal leaders, NCAI representatives, and tribal attorneys was that the Morton policy, which had been the federal policy, had not explicitly excluded non-BIA listed tribal citizens, while the proposed regulations would. The voiced opinion from Indian Country during meetings of the working group and the listening sessions was that the access to eagle feathers was a matter of religious freedom and that drawing a line that excluded citizens of historic tribes was not in the best interest of Indian Country.
The NCAI response included legal opinions from NCAI attorneys, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and the Native American Rights Fund. All were troubled by the manner in which the federal government was interpreting the language of the Morton Policy to now only include BIA listed tribes. This is following a trend that is dividing historic tribes and creating a pattern of exclusion which is also being used to revise historical fact in regard to the manner that federal agencies have dealt with historic tribes regardless of BIA listing. While congratulating DOI and DOJ in regard to the positive changes to their enforcement regarding BIA listed tribes, tribal leaders expressed concern that neither department was appreciating the critical issue of religious freedom for all American Indians.
DOJ provided verbal assurances that the while the new policy did not extend the right of possession to citizens of non-BIA listed tribes, there was no intention to pursue any American Indian who was not killing eagles or selling eagle parts or feathers. Federal prosecutors present at the listening sessions affirmed that citizens of non-BIA listed tribes were not being targeted by the new policy. However, this language was not included in the written policy.
The Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes (ACET) agrees with and supports the statement provided by the NCAI that access to eagle feathers is the religious right of all American Indians. ACET further asserts that to deny such access is a violation of the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. ACET affirms the right of all American Indians to possess eagle feathers in accordance with their tribal beliefs and practices and calls on the government of the United States of America to do the same.
ACET encourages all of its member nations to develop policies consistent with tribal law and custom that discourage the abuse and disrespect for all sacred feathers.