by Brookie Craig
Recently, I went to the Warm Springs reservation in Oregon and then to the Federal Eagle Repository in Ashland, Oregon. You probably never heard of Nathan Jim, Jr. He was a Yakima Indian who was arrested for illegal possession of eagle feathers and parts, by the Feds a couple years ago. He languished in federal jail for 14 months awaiting trial and was finally put on probation for this "heinous" crime. His lawyer appealed it under the new Religious Freedom Act which guarantees Native Americans the right to eagle feathers to practice their religious ceremonies and again lost the appeal. He killed himself fearing that (in his mind) it would mean that the feds would rearrest him and sentence him to jail again.
This so moved his prosecuting U.S. Attorney that he grabbed a bundle of eagle feathers at the Federal Eagle Repository (yes..our tax dollars at work) and drove to the reservation so they could use them for Nathan's spirit sending ceremony (burial). But he arrived too late, so Nathan didn't even get a feather in death.
I decided to continue the challenge to the Feds and drove to Ashland, Oregon where they keep dead eagles (yes..it's true! They have an eagle repository there) and with much dread and fear (we NA do NOT trust the feds, having felt their wrath many times in the past) and trembled my way through the door fully expecting the worst.
I was met at the counter by a little old lady who is a volunteer there. While holding my Bureau of Indian Affairs ID card in one hand and my Cherokee Tribal Registration card in the other, I tried to remember my Ancestors who would want my voice to be strong and proud. I stood a little taller and I said, "I want an eagle feather which is my right under the Religious Freedom Act." I expected a lightning bolt to come down but instead saw a gentle smile as she softly said, "Of course," walked over and handed me a packet of federal forms to fill out with instructions to send in to the Portland office of the US Department of Wildlife Management. I smiled as I read that I will have to have signed references from another Elder and Verification from the Bureau of Indian Affairs AND my Tribe to prove that I am, indeed a REAL Indian. References even for an eagle feather.
She asks..."Do you want a Bald or a Golden Eagle?" CHOICES!?!? I'm not prepared..."Do you want just a wing..or talons..or the head...or the whole eagle?" WHAT?!?!?! I come in expecting to be arrested for asking for ONE feather and they're offering me the WHOLE bird!?! I am confused by the offer and she sees that I'm unprepared for them to offer me choices of parts of this sacred bird and smiles her suggestion that perhaps I might want to look at the drawings of the parts of the bird, circle what I want and include it with the forms. I am defeated instantly by her gentleness.
I ask her how they send an eagle to me and she replies through the U.S. Mail. THE MAIL!?! I cannot envision receiving a dead eagle through the mail and smile at the thought that I might owe postage due upon receipt.
Walking out the door, I turn my head and see a stuffed eagle, sitting silently, perched proudly, in a glass cage, on display in the main lobby and an overwhelming sadness fills my heart as I realize that another eagle fell from the sky...a man, also fearful, but who stood up for his beliefs; who will never be remembered by anyone for a cause that no one really cares about I guess...and the thought of his falling in vain fills me with a sense of profound grief, for our People believe that the eagle is the sacred Messenger who brings the messages from our Creator.
The thought hits me that no one will hear that message for the eagle plunged to Mother Earth. Perhaps mankind might have had a chance to have heard something sacred, but now...will never know. There is something terribly tragic in that. I hope someone hears this message and cares about Nathan Jim, Jr. and the eagle who fell from the sky. There is something inherently evil in the system of a country, that was founded by people escaping religious persecution, that fills it's citizens with such fear that they kill themselves over what they consider to be a basic right of religious freedom.