An American Indian Accuses Federal Agents of Using Wildlife Laws to Thwart his Religious Practices

November 10, 2006

Author: James Pinkerton

Source: Houston Chronicle

MCALLEN -- When Apache holy man Robert Soto performs at American Indian powwows, it is with some indignation: He's been left to dance with turkey feathers.

The revered golden eagle feathers that once topped his colorful headdress have been locked up since March, seized by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent after a traditional powwow in McAllen.

Soto, 54, wants his eagle feathers back. His followers say their seizure amounts to a "war" on American Indians. And they're challenging a federal law restricting possession of eagle feathers to only federally recognized American Indians.

His tribe, the Lipan Apache, is not recognized by the government, so he's not allowed to possess eagle feathers, which Soto considers among the most sacred of all objects.

''They have restricted our religious practices based on a law," said Soto, a holy man who presides over two American Indian congregations. ''If you don't meet the government's definition of a Native American, you can't worship God as a Native American."