Debate About Allowing Hopis to Use Golden Eagle Hatchlings

October 29, 2000

Source: The New York Times

On October 29, 2000, The New York Times reported that "the Department of the Interior has decided that Hopi Indians should be allowed to use golden eagle hatchlings collected at a national monument in Arizona in an annual, ancient rite in which the birds are smothered. Department officials say they are trying to tread a difficult path to protect wildlife, the park system, the rights of American Indians and religious freedom. But critics say the legal reasoning used by the agency to justify its position, detailed in a rule the agency plans to propose next month, is so broad that it could open the way to much wider hunting and trapping by Indians in parks from Alaska to Florida. National Park Service officials defend the proposal, which is still in draft form, saying it would be applied only to a few clans in the Hopi tribe that have a clear, historical link to the few eagle nests that dot the windswept plateaus in the 56-square-mile park, Wupatki National Monument, which was long tribal territory. For generations, young men have scaled cliffs each spring to gather eaglets, which are considered messengers between the physical and spiritual worlds. The eaglets are reared until July, when they are sacrificed to send them to their spirit home. A copy of the draft rule was provided to The New York Times. The section that most concerns critics reads that it is possible that the National Park Service 'will receive requests from other tribes for similar rule changes to address religious practices'...'Such requests will be addressed on their merits, and any rule changes would follow the same process as is being followed here,' the proposal reads. 'It is also possible at some point that the N.P.S. may consider doing a more generic rulemaking on the subject,' it adds."