In March, citizens of the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming were granted their first permit to kill two bald eagles.
They now say they will negotiate with the United States for the right to claim more of the birds for use in religious ceremonies.
The Tribe's plan raises concerns with animal advocates, who say there are ways to honor spiritual traditions without killing animals. In what the pressed called the first decision of its kind, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 9 approved a "take" permit allowing the Tribe to harvest two of the national birds. The approval came after the Tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court that argued the government's failure to allow the Northern Arapaho to claim bald eagles infringed on their religious and sovereign rights.
Tribal leaders said the permit, which can be renewed yearly, is "a start" but two eagles are insufficient to meet the needs of the 9,600 Northern Arapahos. "After further negotiations are pursued, we may be able to obtain even more eagles down the road," William C'Hair, the tribe's language and cultural commissioner, told Reuters.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States said the decision sets an alarming precedent. "There is something unsettling about allowing the authorized killing of the bald eagle," he said.
The raptors were removed from the threatened and endangered species list in 2007. Other federal laws still make it mostly illegal to kill them. The Fish and Wildlife Service gave the Northern Arapaho the permit after determining it was allowable for religious purposes of Indian tribes under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The agency will use those criteria in evaluating similar requests from other tribes, she said, adding, "However, at this time we do not have other pending permit applications." The Northern Arapaho say the eagle represents a powerful figure in the tribe's lore and in their spiritual practices, many of which were historically outlawed by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs amid a program of involuntary acculturation of native peoples.