The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given the OK for an American Indian tribe to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes.
The decision comes after the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the agency's refusal to allow them to do so was a violation of tribal members' religious freedom, the Associated Press reported.
While no longer on the federal list of endangered or threatened species, federal law prohibits the killing of bald eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. American Indians are able to apply for eagle feathers or carcases to use in their ceremonies from a federal repository. They can apply for permits to kill bald eagles as well, though such permission is incredibly rare.
According to the Associated Press, it's been almost three years since the Arapaho tribe applied for such a permit, and a lawyer for the tribe said they believed it necessary to go to court in order to get one. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted the permit Friday.
Under the terms of the permit, the Northern Arapaho will be allowed to kill up to two bald eagles off their reservation. A neighboring tribe, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, opposed the killing of eagles on their shared reservation.
The Arapaho's lawsuit, filed late last year, stems from a legal battle after tribal member Winslow Friday killed a bald eagle without a permit in 2005 to use in the tribe's Sun Dance, the AP reported. A federal judge dismissed the charges, saying it would have been pointless for Friday to apply for a permit since they're generally refused anyway. Federal prosecutors appealed the decision and had Friday's criminal charge reinstated, to which he pleaded guilty and paid a fine.
"One of the goals of the current suit is to prevent any young men like Winslow Friday from being prosecuted in the future for practicing their traditional religious ceremonies," Andy Baldwin, lawyer for the tribe, told the AP.
In late 2007, senior tribe members appeared at a court hearing in support of Friday. Nelson P. White Sr. -- then a member of the Northern Arapaho Business Council -- said the birds American Indians have been forced to get from repositories were rotten.
"That's unacceptable," White said at the time. "How would a non-Indian feel if they had to get their Bible from a repository?"