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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made a bold -- and bald -- move. For the first time ever, agency officials will permit a Native American tribe to kill bald eagles for a religious ceremony . Members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe plan to use the two birds as part of the Sun Dance, an annual summer ceremony.
The move is unprecedented and is thought to be in response to a federal lawsuit. Members believe laws prohibiting the killing of bald eagles violate their right to religious freedom.
There's no word yet on whether the Northern Arapaho will drop the suit, but beware that the government's move has not legalized the killing of bald eagles. Though the birds are no longer endangered, they are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
This law, enforced by the Fish and Wildlife Service, makes it illegal to take, possess, buy, sell or transport bald eagles, their carcasses, nests or eggs. It's also illegal to pursue, shoot, poison, wound, trap or disturb them.
The law includes a series of exceptions and allows the federal agency to grant permits. One of these exceptions is for "Indian religious purposes." Native Americans who are "authorized to participate in bona fide tribal religious ceremonies" are eligible to make such a request. Whether it is granted depends, in part, on the effect a taking would have on the wild populations of bald eagles.
Now, for a bonus fact. The government maintains a "repository" of feathers and other parts of bald eagles killed by accidents involving airplanes and turbines, according to Reuters. Instead of killing bald eagles, Native Americans can request items for religious ceremonies.