Eagle feathers have been important cultural and spiritual symbols for members of the Pueblo of Zuni. "They symbolize strength, courage and vision," explains Edward Wemytewa, cultural liaison for the tribe. Until recently, however, tribal members had to put their names on a 5,000-person waiting list to receive a carcass from the National Eagle Repository. With about 1,100 birds coming into the repository a year, that's about five years of waiting.
Steven Albert, director of
the Zuni Fish and Wildlife Department, and John Antonio, now Native
American liaison for the Fish and Wildlife Service, were tired of
the wait and eager to revive the centuries-old tradition of Zuni
eagle husbandry. They put their heads together with the Bureau of
Indian Affairs and came up with a solution. By constructing a
state-of-the-art eagle facility, the Zuni Eagle Aviary, the Pueblo
was able to obtain permits to care for domesticated or permanently
disabled birds. The facility is now home to 15 bald and golden
eagles; the tribe collects the feathers as they molt and
distributes them to tribal members.
percent of the 10,000-member tribe practicing the traditional Zuni
religion, feathers are used for anything from blessings and
initiation ceremonies to adornment of religious dance
The project has been such a success
that the tribe is now looking into developing a captive breeding
facility. Antonio says the hope is to "restore and recover golden
eagles in the area where they were historically
To find out more about the aviary, or
to arrange a visit, please call 505/782-5851.