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Selling of eagle parts not a tradition.

Slaughtering eagles and selling their feathers and body parts for powwow dance regalia has nothing to do with tradition, explained Francis Tootoosis.

The Elder from Hobbema and other Elders from around the country are adamant in declaring historical harvesting of eagle feathers and body parts had nothing to do with making a profit. Traditionally, feathers were often taken one at a time from the birds in a respectful way. Instances where birds are killed for profit-such as the case that occurred in North Vancouver a few years back where 50 birds were slaughtered and their feathers and body parts sold within the powwow circuit-are nothing less than tragic.

"We have so many stories that revolve around people receiving feathers in a spiritual way," Tootoosis explained. "Eagles are powerful beings, and they decide to give themselves to you if you go about appealing to them in a proper, respectful way with prayer. The kind of slaughter that happened in Vancouver is just a form of animal cruelty that only serves to weaken peoples' link with the powerful birds."

Traditionally, Tootoosis said, an eagle hunter would dig a pit and cover it with camouflage material like branches and plant material. Placing bait on the cover, he would hide in the pit until an eagle landed to take the bait, and then he would usually grab it by the feet to extract a feather or feathers.

"Those birds are strong, so you can imagine gathering feathers this way took special expertise. What the hunter ended up with was variable, depending on how sincerely he appealed to the eagle spirit for his needs."

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Echoing Tootoosis' sentiments, Chehalis Elder Grand Chief Rose Charlie and Eagle expert David Hancock have been travelling around British Columbia to counter the greed that leads to the trafficking of bird parts and feathers in the powwow circle. By speaking about the traditional way of receiving feathers, for example, the pair hopes to nurture profound respect for the eagle, and all wildlife, in students at the schools they have been visiting.

Hancock described the way Charlie conveys the proper way to procure feathers to her young audiences.

"'You might be walking down the beach and see a feather lying on the sand before you,' is what she tells the group", Hancock said. "And then she pretends to bend down and pick it up. 'If you find an eagle feather, it is a gift to be appreciated. Or, if it's given to you by a believer, it has great value', she tells them."

Hancock said former United States president Bill Clinton unknowingly changed powwow culture when he declared all eagles would be protected under U.S. law, and that parts of birds that were unlawfully or naturally killed should be given to Native Americans.

"Before Clinton put this law into place, feathers of golden eagles were mainly used in regalia because of their variegated colour. But the former president created an artificial market for bald eagles when he declared all eagles would be protected and their parts awarded to Natives," Hancock explained.

"What you have now is people saying the massacre of eagles is culturally and religiously justified. But it is not, and never was, a historic right," he said.

"And don't get me wrong, I am not against powwow, I'm just against the wrong values misguided people use to cover the greed that comes when senseless killing is involved in making a profit."

Hancock, who has observed eagles for 50 years, has many stories and eagle facts to share with curious students. He confirms they are powerful in flight and deserve the reverence they are awarded by Aboriginal people who declare them as "the bird that flies closest to the Creator."

"Eagles are incredible soarers that move around the country on thermal air currents. They have huge, broad wings but they conserve flying energy not so much by flapping them, as much as gliding on outstretched wings."

Hancock said they can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour in regular flight, but can dive at a speed of 100 kilometres an hour.

And what about their phenomenal eyesight?

"They do have seven times more visual acuity than humans and they can detect motion from a long distance away. But what makes them such exceptional hunters is their ability to read the behaviour of other raptors. They can tap into the 'moccasin telegraph' that says there's food somewhere by reading the body language of other birds that have already located it. They get the message from miles away."

Hancock said two million people around the world gained a sense of awe and immediate insight into the life of bald eagles when they watched live camera footage on his Web site (www.hancockwildlifechannel.org) showing a female laying her eggs.

"The camera zoomed in about 11 or 12 inches from the mother's head. She was grunting in labour and then she'd turn around and there it was ... an egg. The camera caught her rolling the eggs so they could be evenly warmed."

Hancock, who formed the Hancock Wildlife Foundation and annually helps coordinate the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival Foundation, a bird-viewing gathering, said a female lays one to three eggs, but two is the norm.

"The eggs can come three days apart, and if food is at all short, there's fratricide. That's when the oldest hatchling kills the youngest for survival. The chance of all three babies surviving is rare."

Eagles mate for life but if one of a pair is lost, they will find a new partner. The hunt for food may take them away from each other, as well.

"We traced a known pair of parents with a satellite pack after they had abandoned their babies, which usually occurs about five days after they fledge. Two months later, we tracked the mother in the area of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, while the male had stayed close to home here in B.C., fishing for herring."

By Dianne Meili

Windspeaker Staff Writer

HOBBEMA, Alta.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:All My Relations
Author:Meili, Dianne
Publication:Windspeaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2007
Words:1010
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