Death of an Eagle

When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.

Chief Aupaumut, Mohican, 1725

By Brooke Craig, Cherokee

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Recently, I went to the Warm Springs reservation in Oregon and then to the Federal Eagle Repository in Ashland Oregon.

You probably never heard of Nathan Jim, Jr. He was a Warm Springs Yakima Indian who was arrested for illegal possession of eagle feathers and parts by the Feds a couple of years ago. He languished in federal jail for l4 months awaiting trial and was finally put on probation for this heinous crime. His lawyer appealed it under the new Religious Freedom act which guarantees Native Americans the right to eagle feathers to practice their religious ceremonies and again lost the appeal.

He killed himself, fearing that (in his mind) it would mean that the feds would rearrest him and sentence him to jail again. This so moved his prosecuting US Attorney that he grabbed a bundle of eagle feathers at the Fed Eagle Repository (yes..our tax dollars at work) and drove to the reservation so they could use them for Nathan's spirit sending ceremony (burial) but arrived too late so Nathan didn't even get a feather in death.

I decided to continue the challenge to the Feds and drove to Ashland, Oregon where they keep dead Eagles (yes..its true they have a Eagle repository there) and with much dread and fear (we Indians do not trust the feds, having felt their wrath many times in the past) and trembled my way through the door fully expecting the worst.

[ pgiese note: The Federal Evidence and Property Repository at Ashland, which Brooke visited, and took that tombstone photo of, has a Web page; here it is, so you can visit them too, even send then EMAIL. Actually, it's a crime lab (forensics) that prepares evidence for prosecuting people. Odds are good Nathan Jim's prosecutor used scientific evidence from here, if he needed such evidence. I didn't find it in connection with Brooke's story, I was searching on "American Indian" and something came up saying "U.S. Federal Evidence and Property Repository." I figured it was something to do with federal cases involving Indian land or something. I was surprised to find a screen going on about giving dead eagles to American Indians for religious purposes. Seemed like kind of a sign (from Big Computer in the Sky) I should get in touch with Brooke about her story. Now back to that story. ]

I was met at the counter by a little old lady who is a volunteer there. While holding my Bureau of Indian Affairs ID card in one hand and my Cherokee Tribal Enrollment card in the other, I tried to remember my Ancestors who would want my voice to be strong and proud. I stood a little taller

I said, "I want a Eagle Feather which is my right under the Religious Freedom Act."

I expected a lightning bolt to come down but instead saw a gentle smile as she softly said, "Of course," walked over and handed me a a packet of federal forms to fill out with instructions to send in to the Portland office of the US department of Wildlife management.

I smiled as I read that I will have to have signed references from another Elder and Verification from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and my Tribe to prove that I am, indeed a REAL Indian.. References even for a Eagle Feather.

She asks "Do you want a Bald or a Golden Eagle?" CHOICES!?!?

I'm not prepared.

"Do you want just a wing..or talons..or the head...or the whole eagle?" WHAT?!?!?!

I come in expecting to be arrested for asking for one feather and they're offering me the whole bird!?! I am confused by the offer and she sees that I'm unprepared for them offering me choices of parts of this sacred bird.

She smiles her suggestion that perhaps I might want to look at the drawings of the parts of the bird, circle what I want and include it with the forms. I am defeated instantly by her gentleness.

I ask her how they send an Eagle to me and she replies through the U.S. Mail. THE MAIL!?! I cannot envision receiving a dead eagle through the mail and smile at the thought that I might owe postage due upon receipt.

Walking out the door I turn my head and see a stuffed eagle, sitting silently perched proudly, in a glass cage, on display in the main lobby and overwhelming sadness fills my heart as I realize that another Eagle fell from the sky...a man, also fearful but who stood up for his beliefs, who will never be remembered by anyone for a cause that no one really cares about I guess...and the thought of his falling in vain fills me with a sense of profound grief, for our People believe that the Eagle is the sacred Messenger who brings the messages from our Creator.

The thought hits me that no one will hear that message for the Eagle plunged to Mother Earth and perhaps mankind might have had a chance to have heard something sacred, but now...will never know.

There is something terribly tragic in that. I hope someone hears this message and cares about Nathan Jim, Jr., the Eagle who fell from the sky.

There is something inherently evil in a country founded by Dreamers escaping religious persecution, when its people are filled with such fear that they kill themselves over what is a basic right of religious freedom.

Hear this message from the Eagle with your hearts.

"Man's law changes with his understanding of man. Only the laws of the spirit remain always the same."--Crow saying

If you would like to reply to this story, send Brooke E-mail at Replies will be posted on the replies page.

As stated on the Main Menu, copyright to contributions is held presumptively by their contributors. This story is Copyright Brooke Craig, 1995.

PIX CREDITS: The striking image of the eagle-man--which to me suggests an eagle perceiving a person below who is probably praying--was drawn by Kahonies (John Fadden), Akwesasne reservation Mohawk, for Akwesasne Notes in 1973. John was the most prolific of Notes' artists, whose fine hatch line makes his work difficult to preserve (all originals were lost in several arsons). John has been a successful artist for many years, illustrating books, as well as selling his own works. In winters, he teaches art at an Indian school. In summers he opens the art museum which his father, Ray Fadden (who began to revive young 6 Nations people's interest in language and culture in the late '40's), started. This holds a collection from all over the Indian world, with special attention to the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes regions--both sides of the border. It holds many of John's paintings and drawings as well; these are Not For Sale--they tell various stories and histories.

The pouncing fire eagle was drawn in in 1976 in black-and-white outline only by Clayton Brascoupe, Akwesasne Mohawk and sometimes art editor of Notes. It was the shape that suggested to me an interior made of fire, appropriate for Brooke's story.

Both pix were scanned from crumbling old yellow pages of Notes and digitized by tracing with FreeHand, then colored for these pages by Paula Giese.

pgiese editorial note: I came across Brooke's story by someone emailing it to a list I subscribe to. I emailed her for permission to use it in these pages for Indian schools and students. It is a strong, timeless story, whose facts about Nathan Jim's arrest and death are correct. Brooke, a person of Cherokee ancestry and tribal enrollment, lives in Washington State. She is involved in "Web-based spiritual activities" of a non-traditional kind of spirituality. These appear to speak powerfully to lost and lonely people of several races, although they do not appeal to me, and would not, I think, speak much to Indian youth who are learning their own particular tribal heritages, whose spiritual values come in a context of that living reality.

Yet I feel that experiences such as Brooke recounts convey much more than just what happened. Such experiences perhaps hold more of spirit than attempts to be too explicit talking or writing emotionally about it. Some things can't be said, not because saying them is forbidden, but because they are not expressible in words. And yet a true account of actions may show those things, by making the occurrences real.

Many people responded on Brooke's own pages to this story. It was very striking to me that almost all of them told of personal experiences about eagles, of their (non-Indian) relatives having stuffed eagles or found feathers. There were numerous questions about whether you could keep eagle feathers you found, etc etc. I think it was only two who expressed some sympathy for Nathan Jim. the human being who was persecuted by the U.S. government and who died in fear of more persecution. Nathan Jim is Brooke's metaphorical eagle, the one who died. They didn't seem to get it. There was much indignation that they and their (non-Indian) relatives couldn't legally keep eagle feathers, stuffed eagles, etc. even if they didn't kill the eagles themselves.

The irony of seeing side-by-side the federal dead eagle bureaucracy and the federal forces of law prosecuting a religious Indian to death--that was lost on them. To me, this demonstrates the failure of the kind of spirituality most of these people seem to be into, shallow, self-regarding.

I wonder, though, I really wonder, what Indian young people will make of this story. Will it result in an outpouring of poems and essays about eagles, messengers of the Creator, etc., and nothing about the man whose eagle-spirit was shot down from the sky by the U.S. government's law, the man who died? I hope they will notice Nathan Jim in that story, there, but maybe they won't. He is the eagle whose death she is writing about.

This story seems very appropriate for young people of all tribal heritages to read and consider. I did not simply want to link to it, because it wasn't laid out very well and because I had a certain idea of how I wanted to illustrate it. And I especially felt that after I had read all the people's comments about it.

If you want to access Brooke's page it is: Dreamers Page

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Page prepared by Paula Giese graphics and layout copyright 1995.

Last updated: Tuesday, June 25, 1996 - 1:15:05 PM