The Sacred Rite of Hunting Bald Eagles

By Joshua Witchger 3-20-2012
Bald eagle via
Bald eagle via

We often hear that there’s a “war on religion,” that certain expressions of Christianity are under attack by secularists seeking a new age of post-God. And while things may or may not be easy for Christians, our rituals are not prohibited by law, like some of our Native American neighbors.

Until recently, it was illegal for Native Americans to acquire bald eagle feathers and parts – relics used for a variety of tribal rituals and ceremonies – by any means other than family or the National Eagle Repository in Denver. 

But acquiring birds from the repository was beginning to wear on Natives. Eagles would often arrive to the tribe unusable, tattered, or decomposed. One tribe member expressed it this way to NPR, "If a non-Indian had to get his Bible from a repository, and it was sent in a box, and he opened it and it was rotten — how would he like it?"

Because eagles are important to tribal life, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now granting the Northern Arapaho tribe of Wyoming permits to hunt the eagles themselves – one permit allows two eagles. Tribal members say they now are beginning to find the freedom to live more fully into their sacred traditions.


Joshua Witchger is an online assistant at Sojourners. Read more from Joshua on his blog hail fellow well met.

(Bald eagle via

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