Some members of state-recognized Indian tribes say they will push for the freedom to use eagle feathers during Native American rituals in hopes of altering a federal decision allowing only federally-recognized tribes access to the feathers and animal parts sacred to the culture.

Will Moreau Goins, chief of the Eastern Cherokee, Southern Iroquois & United Tribes of South Carolina Inc., is taking the lead on the fight to obtain eagle permits in South Carolina, viewing it as both a civil rights issue and a battle for religious freedom.

He and others believe the decision made last fall by the US Justice Department’s Office of Tribal Justice is another chapter in a centuries-old effort to thwart Native American religious and cultural expression.

“The treatment of Native Americans points to an important irony: Catholics, Jews, Quakers and Puritans all sought haven in America to escape religious persecution in Europe,” Goins explained in an email. “And yet throughout American history, Native American Indians and indigenous peoples everywhere have been denied the very liberties motivating the formation of these American states and countries.”

Barbara Morningstar Paul believes Native Americans stand alone in suffering such persecution. She said Christians would be appalled if they had to prove they were Christians before obtaining a cross; Jews, likewise, would be dismayed if they could not wear a yamulke without seeking government approval.

“We are the only race in the entire country that has to have permission to be recognized for who we are,” says Paul, who retired as coordinator of Native American affairs for the SC Commission for Minority Affairs. “The bottom line is Native Americans are the only ones who have to prove themselves in order to use religious objects.”

The Obama administration in October formalized and clarified a long-standing policy that allows federally-recognized Native Americans to possess or use eagle feathers for religious or cultural purposes. Those tribes that do not have federal recognition — and there are many in South Carolina — are in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act if they possess a feather without a federal permit.

The policy does not affect eagle feathers, headdresses and other objects that have been held and passed down through generations before laws were passed in 1940 and 1962. Nevertheless, Paul, a member of the Black Elk tribe in South Dakota, said she would be reluctant to publicly display one of those feathers for fear of arrest.

The restriction “will certainly damper our experience in heritage tourism,” said Goins, who worries that a federal official could disrupt a Native American pow-wow in search of the illicit feathers.

Anthony Davidson, a retired chief of the Edisto, Natchez and Kusso tribes, said he believes state-recognized tribes such as his should have access to the eagle feathers.

“That’s our culture, that’s our heritage,” said Davidson. “We ought to be able to carry eagle feathers if we want to.”

He has a full headdress that once belonged to Chief Sitting Bull, who defeated Gen. George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a gift that is allowed under the law because of the age of the headdress. Sitting Bull apparently wore the headdress while performing in one of the popular Wild West shows of the era.

But Davidson said he is not as focused on the feather issue because of some of the closer-to-home problems the tribe wants to resolve.

“My particular tribe, we are trying to get a place for our seniors to live in,” said Davidson. “It’s more important because they are our elders.”

South Carolina has only one federally-recognized tribe, the Catawbas. There are 12 state-recognized tribes and groups, including: Beaver Creek Indians; Edisto Natchez Kusso Tribe of South Carolina; Pee Dee Nation of Upper South Carolina; Pee Dee Indian Tribe of South Carolina; Santee Indian Organization; Waccamaw Indian People; Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians; Chaloklowa Chickasaw Indian People; Eastern Cherokee, Southern Iroquois and United Tribes of S.C.; Natchez Tribe of South Carolina; Pee Dee Indian Tribe of Beaver Creek; and Piedmont American Indian Association–Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina.

Louie Chavis, chief of the Beaver Creek Indians, said the issue is so politicized that he does not believe state-recognized tribes can persuade Washington to change.

“I don’t believe they have enough manpower,” Chavis said. “I am also aware of the greatest wall they will meet, which is federal law already established. I just don’t see that there is enough interest. The federal tribes will also have to sign off on this.”

Chavis said he knows Native Americans “who would run if someone tried to give them” a feather because of the federal fines that can be incurred. But many hold dear the sacred eagle feathers that have been passed down through generations or given as gifts.

“They do not flaunt (the laws), yet on the other side we as a culture know what grandfather has given us,” he said.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has made no arrests over possession of eagle feathers in South Carolina, said Tom MacKenzie, media and tribal relations representative for the services’s Southeast region. He said game officials focus greater attention on illegal sales of eagle feathers and other animal parts.

Responses to "Some SC tribal members fighting for right to use eagle feathers (Video)"

  1. Anonymous says:

    I believe tribes who have documented proof of indian ancestry regardless if they are state or federally recognized should have rights to use eagle feathers.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I believe tribes recognized by states should be recognized by the federal government. I don't understand why this is a problem or should be.

  3. Anonymous says:

    They should include state recognized tribes also. If a state can recognize a tribe the it should so be allowed. If in doubt of a Natives status, most do have status cards that can show their blood quantum also to show they have a right to their heritage.

  4. Anonymous says:

    State tribes should NOT be included ,
    the Eagle protection comes first....The Federally Recognized tribe right comes from The Fact that they are a "sovereign governments" and can pass laws as sovereign however these state invented groups have no standing historic customs or privileges to be exempt and cannot show a long standing historic use of eagle feathers as religious most state tribes are recent invention with no Eagle cultural use or connection they tend to mimic what they see on tv as indian and then start using eagle parts.
    These state groups are not Sovereign and cannot violate any federal Laws.
    .Sovereignty determines who can use Eagle parts not race!!! anyone can then claim to have indian heritage or some vague tribal connection(state tribes popping up everywhere)

Write a comment