When two traditions collide

Controversy surrounds a tribe's request to gather eagles in a national monument

  • Map of Wupatki National Monument

    Diane Sylvain
 

Poking up from the flat expanses of northern Arizona's Wupatki National Monument are sandstone ruins, 800-year-old pueblos which are abandoned now, though protected for archaeologists and tourists.

But Native Americans haven't disappeared. The Hopi tribe, which traces its roots back to the builders of Wupatki, lives on a reservation just to the east. The Hopis say their clans have collected baby golden eagles for generations, and on the cliffs of Wupatki lies one clan's gathering spot. Each spring, limber young Hopis scale cliffs up to the nests, where they gather eaglets. Months later, the tribe sacrifices the eaglets in a summer ceremony, its central religious practice.

"It's something we've been doing since long before the United States existed," says tribal spokesman Eugene Kaye.

While collecting or killing eagles is now banned by federal law, Hopis receive special permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to gather about 40 eagles per year. Yet Wupatki has been off-limits. The taking of any animal from national parks and monuments has been illegal since hunting was banned in Yellowstone in 1894. To many Americans, national parks remain untouchable wildlife sanctuaries; killing wildlife in a national park would be like shooting animals at the zoo.

These two traditions may soon go head to head. The Department of the Interior is considering a special rule that would allow the Hopis to take golden eagles from Wupatki, which critics say would set a precedent for opening parks to the taking of wildlife.

"What this rule is," says Frank Buono, a member of the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, "it's the plow that breaks the ground."

Disputed rights

This isn't the first time the Park Service has been caught between the conflicting demands of mainstream America and Native Americans. Many tribes, including the Blackfeet in Montana and the Quinault in Washington, have treaties that they claim give them the right to hunt in national parks.

The case of the Hopis is different, however, because the tribe's eagle collecting is not upheld by a treaty. But Philip Burnham, author of Indian Country, God's Country: Native Americans in the National Parks, says that over the last 15 years, the Park Service has become more receptive to requests from Native Americans. Indian religious claims in particular have begun to gain clout. In the mid-'90s, for example, the agency helped institute a voluntary rock-climbing ban during June on Devil's Tower in Wyoming, a site sacred to several local tribes (HCN, 5/26/97).

Perhaps it was this atmosphere that led members of the Hopi Greasewood clan to ask park officials for formal permission to collect eaglets in the monument in the spring of 1999. Park Superintendent Sam Henderson said no. Federal law, he said, including the 1916 Organic Act which created the National Park Service, did not allow anyone to take wildlife from national parks. The Hopis appealed his decision, but a Park Service regional director, and then acting associate park service director Linda Canzanelli, cemented the original denial.

Then, in the summer of 1999, Don Barry, Assistant Interior Secretary for the Fish and Wildlife Service, decided that the tribe's case hadn't gotten the attention it deserved. Barry says he believed the decision from Canzanelli, a mid-level Park Service employee, was a "slap in the face" to the Hopis. A river-rafting trip with tribal chairman Wayne Taylor confirmed Barry's doubt, and he withdrew the decision.

Barry asked the Interior Department's legal arm for a new opinion on the Hopis' request. Since then, solicitor general John Leshy has written a draft rule that would circumvent Park Service regulations. Leshy's draft is based on the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which protects the right of Native Americans to practice traditional religions. The rule would allow the Hopis to collect eagles from Wupatki as long as they have a Fish and Wildlife permit and the collection wouldn't "impair park resources," a decision that the park superintendent would make on a case-by-case basis.

Ruffled feathers

Critics call the rule a poor decision by a lame-duck Clinton administration.

"This rule violates the department's own regulations," says Patricia Lane of the Humane Society of the U.S., an animal-rights group that Lane says will consider taking legal action if the rule goes through. "They're trying to go against their own statutes and precedents."

"It will radically alter the national park system," adds Buono of PEER, a former assistant superintendent at Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park. "A special rule at Wupatki is just the first of many such special rules which will open up many parks to the Indian tribes' taking of animals." Buono adds that other special-interest groups like the National Rifle Association may be waiting in the wings to hunt in the parks.

Park Service administrator Dave Kreger, who is overseeing the environmental assessment on the rule, says the Interior Department is "concerned about the cumulative impact" of the rule. But he adds that no other tribes are currently requesting permission to take animals from national parks.

"This is a specific response to a specific request," says Patricia Parker, chief of the agency's American Indian Liaison Office. "It's a sincerely held belief that has a documented practice, and we wanted to see if we could accommodate it in the context of the park system."

The department hopes to release the rule before President Clinton leaves office in January.

"The worst-case scenario," says Don Barry, who has recently left the department to work for the Wilderness Society, "would be to honor the dead and past and not see the connection to the present."

Tim Sullivan is an intern at High Country News.

You can contact ...

  • Eugene Kaye, spokesman for the Hopi Tribe, 520/734-3100;
  • Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 202/265-7337;
  • Sam Henderson, Wupatki National Monument, 520/526-1157.
High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.