Justice Department to allow members of Indian tribes to have eagle feathers

WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. Justice Department will allow members of federally recognized Indian tribes to possess eagle feathers, though it’s still a federal crime.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and other laws criminalize the killing of eagles and possession of feathers and bird parts. However, the Constitution and federal laws give tribes local sovereignty for self-government.

Under the new policy announced Friday, tribal members will not be prosecuted for wearing or carrying federally protected birds, bird feathers, or parts. They also may pick up feathers in the wild if they do not disturb protected birds or nests.

The Justice Department consulted many tribes about the issue, which is considered a significant religious and cultural victory.

Attorney General Eric Holder says the policy balances protection of eagles with respect for Indian cultural and religious practices.