For the first time ever, the federal government has given a Native American tribe the permission to kill bald eagles to use in religious ceremonies.
The Daily Mail reports the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming will be allowed to kill -- or capture and release -- two eagles this year.
The bald eagle population has exploded over the past couple of decades because of preservation efforts. In 1995 it was taken off the endangered species list and reclassified as threatened. In 2007 that classification was taken away. Bald eagles are still protected and cannot be killed or captured.
But the Arapahos sued to be able to use them, and the Fish and Wildlife Service relented. In his decision, assistant regional director Matt Hogan wrote:
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Issuance of the permit was in accordance with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act which allows for take of bald or golden eagles for the "religious purposes of Indian tribes" if it is compatible with the preservation of eagle populations.
Tribe lawyer Andy Baldwin said the government's decision is "an important development in the protection of tribal sovereignty and religious freedoms."
The government actually keeps a stock of bald eagle feathers and body parts for which tribes can apply to use in their ceremonies.