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Birds of a Feather

March 18, 2012 - Joselyn King
Among the most amazing creatures on earth is the American Bald Eagle -- an iconic national symbol. A great way to see the species up close is to visit the eagle at Oglebay Park's Good Zoo.

For many years, bald eagles were considered an endangered species subject to federal protection. As a result, its numbers have increased in recent decades.

But this month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted a permit to the Northern Arapaho Tribe -- allowing it to either to kill or capture and release two bald eagles this year.

The tribe uses bald eagles during its traditional "Sun Dance" ceremony, a part of its religion.

During the latter 19th century and early 20th century, many Indian ceremonies were crimininalized under U.S. law and some of their traditions perished with time.

Indian leaders today contend that allowing some tribes to hunt the bald eagle -- and re-establish their religious tradition -- rights a past wrong that infringed upon their religious freedom.

Some research reveals that to the Arapaho and some other Plains Indians tribes who practice the Sun Dance ceremony, the eagle is among their most sacred animals. The eagle flies high, being the closest creature to the Sun. Therefore it is the link between man and spirit, being the messenger that delivers prayers to their God, they believe.

Indians often call eagles the "Thunderbird." Research indicates it is mostly the bones and feathers of the eagle that are utilized in the ceremony.

Those opposed to the granting of the permit say birds -- maybe not necessarily eagles -- could be bred in captivity by Indians, lessening the need to kill those that fly in the wild.

Perhaps an even better suggestion is that Indian tribes contact groups that harvest birds who have died after flying into powerlines.

I understand a group wanting to protect its heritage and traditions -- but does a literal interpretation have to take place? As we grow as a human species, shouldn't our practices and beliefs evolve?

I'm reminded of Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery." In that piece, members of a small town participate in a traditional annual lottery -- where they choose a winner that will be stoned to death.

Tradition shouldn't blind us to basic common sense.

 
 

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