Manataka American Indian Council

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EAGLE FEATHERS CASE

 


"It was a good day in court!"

 

Dear Friends: Thank all of you who have been praying for our lawsuit against the Department of Interior.  This fight has never been about the feathers and about me.  It has been about the spiritual rights of all Natives and the restoration or re-establishment of our rights as Natives to use the sacred objects given to us by God the Creator in our ceremonies, gatherings and powwows.  When I was confronted by the feds, I refused to give them my two golden eagle feathers on my porcupine hair roach.  My first statement to the agent trying to take them away was, "I am Indian and as an Indian, it is my right to use these feathers."  When he asked me to give them to him, I told him no.  I knew it was only a matter of time before he discovered I was not from a tribe recognized by the federal government but I was not about to give them up that easily.  I finally gave them up but on my terms. 

 

But it was then that I decided that this fight was not over.  That this fight was about to begin. Yesterday was a good day in court.  Everything we wanted, the judge gave to us.  But you must know, again, that this is not about me; it's about God.  From the very beginning, I knew that God has a special calling for these eagle feathers.  After all, if Psalm 139:16 was true, then God the Creator knew that undercover agents were going to invade our powwow and take fifty of our feathers. 

 

By the way, Psalm 139:16 states, "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."  That tells me that before the foundations of the earth were established by God, before I was even conceived, God knew that on March 11, 2006 undercover agents were going to come and threaten to arrest me for what they called the illegal possession of eagle feathers.  As I prayed I said to God, "If you knew this was going to happen, why did you not stop it?"  Then I heard His voice in my heart say to me, "Because I want you to fight for what is right and let me work through you."  It was then that I decided I had no choice but to pursue this suit to change the laws.

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On May 27, 2015, we returned to court.  The Department of Interior wanted the judge to dismiss the case and we want to continue to fight.  I would like to summarize what happened.  The judge allowed the Department of Interior's lawyer to go first.  He presented his argument why the judge should dismiss the case. By the way, this was before the same judge who gave the Department of Interior their win a couple of years ago.  The first reason he gave was that I had already gotten my feathers back; after all, wasn't that what I had wanted? To this the judge stated something like this: "This has never been just about the feathers."  He went on and elaborated that this was for changes in laws that rule our spirituality.  The second argument presented by the Department of Interior was the statute of limitations; after all, this has been going on for nine years.  I'm not sure of the exact words but the judge said something like this: "You have had nine years to stop this fight and now that you have lost, you are trying to use this?"  Then he reminded them they could have done this a long time ago.  He then denied their request to dismiss the case based on that it had been going on nine years.  We had now won round two.  Attorney Luke Goodrich, one of our lawyers, requested that the judge put an injunction against the Department of Interior to keep federal agents from harassing or threatening us for the use of eagle feathers.  The judge said that he did not see an imminent danger of federal agents harassing dancers so he turned down our request.  But he did take it one step higher.  He said in case the federal agents ever came to our powwows, to just give him a call and he would put an immediate restraining order against the Department of Interior. 

 

So in a good sense, we won round three and have kept the case open to fight another day to change the unfair laws and regulations that control our spirituality and the use of sacred objects like eagle feathers. So with this in mind, we will return to court sometime in the near future where we will once again argue that what was taken away from us back on March 11, 2006 was our right as spiritual people and that the government does not have the right to say who can or cannot use sacred objects in ceremonies, gatherings and powwows and that the government does not have the right to interfere in our spirituality.  I will continue to fight for what I feel in my heart is right.  If I win, all glory to my Lord and Savior.  If I lose at the end, all glory to my Lord and Savior too. Then I will take my eagle feathers and put them on my roach and start the fight all over again if need be. Keep us in prayer.  The day the government came into our circle, which our elders taught us was sacred, was the day they attempted to destroy all that is good and just in His sight.  They tried to take away our Indianness once again, but as our ancestors before us, we do not go down easily.  We no longer fight with guns and bows, but with the wisdom and knowledge we have gained from their ways and the ways God the Creator places before us. 

 

Thank you for your prayers and thank you for your years of support. I want to thank our lawyers, Milo Colton and Marisa Salazar, for their tireless effort to fight on our behalf.  I also want to thank Luke Goodrich of the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty for taking the reins and helping us continue the fight.  I also want to thank Mike Bennett of Baker Botts for their effort to help us win this case.  But foremost, I want to thank my God and my Savior for the strength, power and wisdom He has given us.

 

God bless,

 

Robert Soto


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