American Elephants


There Are Always Tradeoffs Between What’s Right and Politics by The Elephant's Child

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The Wall Street Journal reports that:

This week, nine years after a federal agent infiltrated a religious ceremony to seize an American Indian tribe’s sacred objects, pastor Robert Soto finally got his feathers back. But the feds are still threatening civil and criminal penalties against Mr. Soto if he shares his feathers with anyone. And the government intends to seize them again upon his death. In the annals of government abuse, the federal “Operation Powwow” is one for the ages.

As long ago as 2005 gumshoes from the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service started sniffing around Mr. Soto’s Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas and the McAllen Grace Brethren Church, where he leads the exercise of traditional American Indian worship. In 2006 a special agent made his not-so-daring move.

He attended the ceremony, asking questions about the feathers but identifying himself as a federal investigator only after encouraging a worshiper to share information. The government eventually confiscated dozens of eagle feathers that were being used in the peaceful exercise of religion.

There is such a thing as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which means that unlicensed possession of feathers can result in fines or even jail time. Two of Mr. Soto’s offending feathers were given to his brother-in-law by an American Indian soldier who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not easy to get a license to receive feathers for religious purposes, and can take  years.

Mr. Soto is a Lipan Apache, a tribe that is recognized by the State of Texas,, but not Washington. It is therefore illegal for Mr. Soto to practice his faith. With help from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, he filed a civil suit against Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. He won his appeal last year along with the Hobby Lobby case which was also a religious freedom case.He got his feathers back, but he cannot give feathers to other worshipers.

Seems like they ought to be allowed to wander around the nation’s wind farms to pick up the feathers from the dead eagles.  The Washington Times reported in September of 1913 that wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997, with most occurring between 2008 and 2012 as the industry was expanding. Most were struck by a turbine. Wind farm turbines are as tall as 30-story buildings, and the spinning rotors can reach speeds up to 170 mph at the tips ‘creating tornado-like vortexes.’ Texas has wind farms.

The Obama administration finalized a rule to allow wind farms to kill eagles for up to 30 years — undoubtedly another executive order in December of 2013. The American Bird Conservancy has sued because the rule violated the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and was adopted without any consultation under the Endangered Species Act.

A study estimated 888,000 bat and 573,000 bird fatalities per year, with 83,000 raptors included. That would produce a pretty big pile of feathers. There are even more deaths at the big solar arrays, but those birds just go up in a puff of smoke — no feathers left. So you see how complicated federal regulations are.

Mr. Soto is threatened with jail if he gives anyone a feather, because he had two eagle feathers from Afghanistan, and the federal government makes a new rule that killing eagles with wind turbines is just fine, because President Obama is sure that we can support America’s energy needs with environmentally friendly (except for birds and bats) wind and natural energy from the sun — that is as soon as they get the problems of the natural intermittence of the wind and those dang clouds worked out.

*The image at the top is what I found when I Googled “Apache Indian headdresses,” so I don’t know if it is Lipan Apache, or even if it is really Apache at all, but it is extremely handsome. We wish Mr. Soto well.

I found a description, The headdress is Lakota Sioux.


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