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On the Hunt for Bald Eagles

Over 5000 Native Americans are currently on the government waiting list for bald eagle feathers.

Two bald eagles may be legally hunted by members of the Arapaho, a Native American nation, after the group received a rare permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reported the AP.

For the Arapaho and other Native American groups, bald eagle feathers and other body parts have been sacred implements since long before Columbus' fateful voyage. But the U.S. Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 made hunting bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) or even collecting the feathers from dead birds illegal.

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Native Americans have to content themselves with feathers parceled out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Eagle Repository. More than 5,000 Native Americans are currently on the waiting list, according to the Repository's website. They can expect to wait about three and a half years to receive whole eagles.

When the birds finally arrive, they are often rotten or otherwise unfit for religious use, said Nelson P. White Sr., a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, to the AP after a 2007 court hearing in which another Arapaho, Winslow Friday, was fined after killing an eagle for use in a Sun Dance ceremony.

"That's unacceptable," said White.

"How would a non-Indian feel if they had to get their Bible from a repository?" White asked.

The permit to hunt the eagles didn't come without a fight. The Arapaho filed for the permit to kill bald eagles for ceremonial use over three years ago. Then last year the tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a delayed response to the punishment of Winslow Friday.

"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, the Arapaho's lawyer, told the AP.

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Bald eagles were removed from the U.S. endangered species list in 1995. The massive raptors are now considered a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Photo: Two bald eagles fighting. Credit: Carl Chapman, Wikimedia Commons.