Confiscating Sacred Instruments: Do We All Need A FWS Permit?

July 30, 2017

By Vi Waln
Sicangu Scribe

Summer is a time when we would do well to be accommodating to the visitors from other tribes who come here for ceremony. The way we treat our guests not only reflects upon us as individuals, it also demonstrates how well we represent our tribe. Consequently, the bad behavior of a few people will reflect upon all Rosebud tribal citizens.

Lakota people who attend ceremony have established relationships with visitors from other tribes, such as the Dineh (Navajo). Ceremony singers travel long distances to come here and pray with us. Our tribal officials need to take into consideration that their treatment of ceremonial visitors from out of state reflects on the entire Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

It was an embarrassment to us as ceremonial people to learn that a Dineh man was recently stopped by Rosebud’s law enforcement. This relative has traveled here to sing at our ceremonies for many years. He was carrying sacred instruments with him. Apparently, he did not have a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) authorizing him to have eagle feathers and parts with him, so the officer confiscated the items from him.

There are many ceremony people who carry permits from the FWS. I didn’t obtain an actual permit until I received bald eagle feathers from the FWS. The permit is just a letter from the FWS authorizing me to have eagle feathers, etc. in my possession. Still, long before I was given a permit by the FWS, I was given eagle plumes in a ceremony.

A tribal identification card/abstract should be sufficient for tribal people to travel with their sacred instruments. We should not be harassing people from other tribes who’ve traveled over a thousand miles or more to come pray with us. Again, I’m embarrassed that this happened to my relative.

I realize we are suffering a meth epidemic, yet the police officers should already be trained to recognize drug-related behavior before they search a vehicle. Maybe the police administrator could post on their Facebook page the tribal regulations surrounding the possession of eagle feathers, etc. so everyone will be aware. The police officers and game wardens need to complete cultural sensitivity training. How unfortunate that Lakota people don’t understand their own culture!

Don’t be surprised if Rosebud police stop you because of an eagle feather dangling from your rearview mirror. You’d best have a FWS permit to legally have that eagle feather in your possession on future trips to Rosebud. Consequently, I was always taught not to leave my feathers in a vehicle. I didn’t hunka my car, that’s why my eagle plume isn’t dangling from my rearview mirror.

It’ll be interesting to see if RST law enforcement, along with our Game, Fish & Parks officers, stop wacipi goers at Rosebud Fair for having eagle feathers in their possession. The idea of local officers confiscating eagle feather bustles because the dancer lacks a permit might seem ridiculous. Yet, based on what my Dineh brother experienced, it’s highly possible.

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