Tribal court to take over eagle-religion case
"CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – A federal judge has agreed to let a tribal court handle the prosecution of a Northern Arapaho man who shot a bald eagle four years ago for use in his tribe’s Sun Dance.
Winslow Friday, now in his mid-20s, has acknowledged he killed a bald eagle without a permit on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming in March 2005.
U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson of Cheyenne entered an order on Friday vacating a trial he had scheduled to begin Monday in Friday’s case. The judge specified tribal courts will handle the matter.
The question of whether Friday should be prosecuted for killing the eagle has fired debate over American Indian religious freedoms. It’s also prompted some to question the adequacy of a federal government program that allows American Indians to get permits to kill eagles or to receive their feathers and other body parts for religious ceremonies.
U.S. District Judge William Downes of Wyoming initially dismissed the government’s case against Friday in late 2006.
Even though Friday hadn’t applied for a permit to kill the eagle, Downes wrote that it would have been pointless for him to apply. The judge wrote that the federal government pays mere lip service to respecting American Indian religious beliefs.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver later reversed Downes’ ruling. Friday tried unsuccessfully to appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
James Barrett, an assistant federal public defender in Cheyenne, represents Friday. Barrett was unavailable for comment, his office said. An attempt to reach Friday was also unsuccessful.
In an interview in August, Barrett said he was trying to resolve Friday’s case by possibly having it transferred to another court.
Barrett emphasized in August that the number of eagles that American Indians kill for their religious practices doesn’t have a significant effect on the eagle population.
“Not any of us would want our religious practices regulated the way the tribe’s practices are, particularly when there’s little actual impact,” Barrett said. “If they were out with automatic weapons knocking eagles out of the sky by the hundreds and impacting the population, well, OK – you might be able to work something out. But that’s not happening.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne declined comment on the transfer of Friday’s case to tribal court.
Although Judge Johnson stated in his order that he expects the tribal courts to resolve Friday’s case. But the judge also kept open the possibility that he could still hold a trial on the case next month if it’s not resolved first.
Donovan Antelope, spokesman for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, said Friday afternoon that the Tribal Business Council would have no comment on Friday’s case while it was pending in tribal court. An attempt to reach a tribal attorney was unsuccessful.
Senior members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe appeared at a federal appeals court in Denver in support of Friday when the federal government appealed the dismissal of his case in 2007.
Nelson P. White, Sr., then a member of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, said after the 2007 court hearing that he didn’t believe Friday should be charged with any crime. White emphasized that tribal members don’t kill eagles indiscriminately.
“My grandfather gave me a whistle from the eagle bone, and his grandfather gave that to him,” White said. “We don’t kill birds every day, or every year.”
White said many of the birds American Indians receive from a federal depository in Colorado were rotten, or otherwise unfit for use in religious ceremonies.
“That’s unacceptable,” White said. “How would a non-Indian feel if they had to get their Bible from a repository.”"
Written by Ben Neary, The Native American Times