Saturday, January 19, 2013

Red Paint Powwow, New Mexico, Part 1: Golden Eagle

Golden eagle, Red Paint Powwow, Silver City, New Mexico

The Red Paint Powwow is an annual event in Silver City, New Mexico, hosted by the Chiricahua Apache. I attended the powwow on Saturday, January 19, 2013.

There was a golden eagle at the powwow

The golden eagle plays a sacred role in the traditional Apache belief system (in addition to Hopi, Navajo, and other groups).

James Rodgers, a falconer, brought his golden eagle to the powwow at the invitation of the powwow organizers. Mr. Rodgers explained to me and a little group surrounding him that many Apache have never seen a golden eagle up close like this. A number of the Indians, he said, come to see the golden eagle with corn pollen in their hands, which they sprinkle on the eagle's feet and back as a blessing. I later saw one of the powwow leaders do exactly that.

Side bar on corn pollen

Corn pollen. Credit: Colorado College

Here is a nice explanation of the importance of corn pollen in Navajo spiritual life. Apache people also have a reverence for corn pollen. (Indeed, Apache and Navajo are related.) If I understand correctly, the "corn pollen way" is the same as "the beauty way."

Below is a song called Corn Pollen Road by Louie Gonnie (who was featured in the documentary, Sun Kissed, that I talked about a couple of weeks ago).

(However, note that although the song is called the Corn Pollen Road, there is a school of faith called the Corn Pollen Way that is different from the school of faith called the Native American Church, and Mr. Gonnie is a member of the latter. Be that as it may, corn pollen has a place in both the cultural/spiritual and religious denomination/spiritual realms. Note also that I only barely have a grasp on any of this.)

Who can own a living golden eagle?

A woman asked Mr. Rodgers if he had a license to own the eagle, and he assured her that not only did he have a license, it was in his pocket.  And he told the story of how he came to own this golden eagle.

Golden eagle ownership in the U.S. is governed by federal law

Per Mr. Rodgers, a falconer can obtain a license to own a golden eagle through the depredation program. As I understand it - and I am discouraged that I can't find a clearly laid-out explanation of same online - if a rancher, for example, makes, through repeated complaints, a successful claim to the feds that his/her livestock is being depredated by a golden eagle, then a falconer on a waiting list can gain access to the offending bird. But only if it is an adolescent - can't be a mature adult; can't be younger than a certain age. Also, the falconer must trap the bird him/herself, and only when accompanied by a federal agent.

Mr. Rodgers reported that it took a week for him to trap his golden eagle.

Who can own parts of a golden eagle?

"It is illegal for any individual to possess a bald or golden eagle, including its parts (feathers, feet, etc)." Source: National Eagle Repository.

But there is the National Eagle Repository, which distributes eagle parts (not kidding) of found-dead eagles to "qualified Native Americans for use in religious Indian ceremonies."

 "Qualified" is important. You cannot grant yourself legal identity as a "Native American" just because you say so. You need to prove it in accordance with federal or tribal regulations.

The powwow emcee was very careful to state that many of the feathers worn by the powwow participants had been handed down through the generations.

What about the Hopis? 

I see conflicting information on the web about Hopis being able to collect live golden eagles and sacrificing them as part of a religious act or using any of their parts (i.e. feathers).

But I'm not confused about the fact that one can't "take" a golden eagle just because one is Hopi. A Hopi must have a permit to do so.

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