Robert Soto: Lipan Apache Tribe wins long fight for eagle feathers

Robert Soto blesses eagle feathers that were returned to him after being seized by federal agents. Photo from Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Robert Soto, a spiritual leader of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, shares news of a settlement that ends a long-running legal dispute over the use of eagle feathers by his people:
As a Lipan Apache, I have been a feather dancer for almost 50 years. I dance as my father taught me and as my people have done for centuries. Our dancing is how we worship God.

Yet in this great nation founded on freedom, not everyone is free to worship. Ten years ago the federal government sent an undercover agent to raid my family’s powwow. As my family and friends drummed and danced, the agent intruded on the sacred circle of the powwow and interrogated us. He confiscated nearly 50 of our sacred eagle feathers and threatened us with fines and prison. He did this because my tribe, the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, is recognized by historians, anthropologists, and the state of Texas, but not recognized by the federal government and therefore did not have a “permit” for our worship.

The government called this covert invasion “Operation Powwow.”

Why would the government go to such lengths to bar us from practicing our faith? It claimed we had violated a law that was meant to protect bald eagles. Even though this law grants eagle feather permits to museums, scientists, zoos, farmers, and even power companies — which kill hundreds of eagles every year — we were not allowed to possess a single eagle feather.

Get the Story:
Robert Soto: Texas Apache tribe flies free (USA Today 7/8)

Department of Justice Eagle Feathers Policy:
Memorandum: Possession or Use of the Feathers or Other Parts of Federally Protected Birds for Tribal Cultural and Religious Purposes (October 12, 2012

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
McAllen Grace Brethren Church v. Salazar (August 20, 2014)

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