Eagle Feather Law - Criteria of Ownership

Criteria of Ownership

The eagle feather law has incited ongoing debate over the criteria of ownership and possession of eagles and eagle parts based on race or ethnicity and Native American tribal membership. There have been several legal challenges to the eagle feather law in which the law’s constitutionality and effects of racial segregation and racial preferences have been called into question.

Presently there are a number of Native and non-Native American individuals and organizations dedicated to amending the language of the law to allow Native American tribes and tribal members greater opportunity to include select non-Native Americans as acceptable owners of eagles feathers for religious and spiritual use.

Defenders of the law have argued it is the only legal protection of Native American spirituality, and that because eagle supplies are limited, increasing the number of people who can have them may make feathers more scarce. Arguments in favor of amending the law (notably by supporters of Religious Freedom with Raptors, an organization dedicated to changing the eagle law) have been made on the grounds that it imposes racial preferences and segregation not traditionally found amongst Native American societies, and additionally that the race requirement of tribal enrollment to possess eagles undermines tribal sovereignty rights to fully welcome and include others in tribal customs involving eagle feathers, thus harming the preservation of traditional values and practices of indigenous societies that have welcomed non-Native Americans for centuries. It is also argued that eagle permit certification restrictions based on race impede people with Native American ancestry, but who may be unable to prove their ancestry, from exploring their heritage.

Supporters in favor of changing the law, such as Religious Freedom with Raptors, advocate removing racial requirements from 50 CFR 22, stating that because such action will enable all U.S. citizens to apply for eagles or parts from the National Eagle Repository (overseen by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service), it would extend the ability of government-regulated programs and agencies to protect raptors by decreasing the profitability of raptor poaching and trafficking.

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