University of Phoenix| The American Indian and the Bald Eagle| Com 220| | Tamara Lowe| 5/10/2009| | The American Indian and The Bald Eagle Native American Indians have been living in America long before the white man ever came here. There were probably about 10 million Indians living in North America at the time the “white man” arrived. The first Native Americans were believed to have arrived during the last ice-age. Somewhere around 20,000-30,000 years ago and they came through a land-bridge across the Bering Sound, from northeastern Siberia into Alaska.
The name “Indian” was given by Christopher Columbus who believed mistakenly that the mainland and islands of America were part of the Indies in Asia. Although, the ancient ways of the American Indian is lost, the religion, culture, legends and spirit will endure. The Native Americans were very spiritual and had many beliefs: the bald eagle is connected to many stories in their history. (Rice, 2008) Haliaeetus leucocephalus ‘ most commonly known as the bald eagle. The bald eagle is one of the most beautiful creatures known to man.
The bald eagle typically measures from 30 -43 inches in length, and 70 to 96 inches in width with a wing span from 23 to 25 inches. Its feathered body is white in color and on its head neck and tail, while the rest of its body is brown. (Huddleston, 2009) When the baby eagle is born until they are teenagers, (approximately 4-6 months old), they are brownish black. Their white head and tail feathers don’t show up until they are 3-5 years old. (Saunders, 2003) Although the bird is far from being bald, the taxonomic name literally means white headed sea-eagle, so bald eagle is actually a misnomer based upon its appearance.
The bald eagle in earlier times was widespread all over North America, but now mainly be found only along the Pacific. The largest population of these beautiful birds can be found in Alaska with an impressive population of thirty-five to forty-five thousand. The eagles were classified as endangered in 1972, but in 1995 were reclassified as a threatened species. This makes the bald eagle one of The Endangered Species Acts biggest success stories. (Rice, 2008) Wicasa,Wandidi The American Bald Eagle was adopted as the symbol of America on June 20, 1782. However, the official designation of the colossal bird did not come until six years later.
During this time there were intense arguments by top politicians of that time. Benjamin Franklin was actually one of the politicians who were opposed to using the bird as our symbol. The people who were fighting against the eagle becoming our national symbol thought that the eagle was of bad moral character, generally poor, and often very lousy and compared it to a thief or a robber. Some were thought to have wanted the turkey to become our symbol because it was a much more respectable bird and the turkey goes back to when the pilgrims had the first Thanksgiving.
Finally, in 1789, the same year George Washington became our Nations first President the American Bald Eagle became our Country’s official bird. (Aun,2007) John F. Kennedy once was to have said that our Founding Fathers made a wise decision when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem our nation. (Rutledge,2006) Many Indian tribes believed that the bald eagle was the closest thing to the Creator and is considered to be a messenger to God. The Tuskegee Indians were one tribe that believed this to be so. There legend is that before the beginning, water was everywhere.
But no people, animals or earth were visible. There were some birds however and they held a council to decide if it might be best to have all land or all water. Some of the birds wanted all land so they would have more food. Other birds wanted all water because they liked it that way. They eventually could not decide so they appointed Eagle as their chief and he was to decide for them. The Eagle decided on land and then asked who would go and search for the land. The Dove volunteered and flew away. He came back after four days and said that he could not find land anywhere.
The Crawfish came along and Eagle asked him if he would go. The Crawfish disappeared under the water and after four days came up to the surface with some dirt in his claws. Crawfish made a ball of the dirt and handed it to Chief Eagle, who flew away with it for four days. When Eagle returned he told the council that there was now land and that an island had been formed. Gradually, the island grew bigger and bigger and the water became lower and lower. More islands appeared and grew together forming the earth. Manasco, 1985) Almost every Native American tribe has significant stories about the eagle. One story from the Walla Walla tribe concerns the two identical wing feathers found close to the breast on each wing. The two feathers are called “THE TWINS”. These feathers are aerodynamic and able to be twisted by the bird to give a smooth level effortless flight, when riding thermal currents. Indians in their superb wisdom, learned from their observation of the eagle. They had discovered that with the loss of either of the twin feathers they were only capable of erratic flight.
Before the modern symbol of the wedding ring to join two people together, the feathers were by kept together (by either the man or woman) until which time the man or woman wished to marry. Once given the giver is telling the receiver, “I need you and am unable to fly on my own. ” Only when the two joined hands and hearts can they enjoy the soaring love of the eagle. The exchanges according to the story were made without any other people knowing about it. (Rutledge,2006) Native American coupleWicasa, Wandidi
There is a special importance when being given an eagle feather, the person is being acknowledged with the utmost and ultimate respect. When a person receives an eagle feather that person is being recognized with gratitude, with love, and with the ultimate reverence. Anyone given an eagle feather most certainly needs to know the significance of this gift. To be given an eagle feather is the highest honor that can be given. When you are given the feather it comes with some restrictions that must be closely followed in order not to defile or disrespect the feather.
The feather must have sacred tobacco burnt for it. This is done so that the Eagle and the creator are given the name of the new eagle feather holder. The keeper of the feather must ensure that anything that may change the natural state of ones mind such as drugs and alcohol must never come into contact with the sacred eagle feather. Many Indian cultures believed that when holding the feather you must speak the truth in as positive way as possible because the ear of the creator is close to the feather of the eagle. A woman who is on her moon-time (menstrual cycle) for example, is forbidden to touch the feather.
It should never be put in a drawer or cupboard it must always be hung up in your home. (Detrich, 1983) Today it is not easy to obtain an eagle feather. It is actually illegal to possess eagle feathers or any part of an eagle without a special permit given by the U. S. government. To obtain an eagle feather you must go to a special repository and be able to prove Native ancestry. The government only gives out so many permits every year so they are very difficult to obtain. Native Americans that obtain eagle feathers must use them only for traditional ceremonies or for teaching purposes.
Many dancers use the feathers as part of their dance regalia. One such dance is the eagle dance. The dance portrays the life cycle of the eagle from birth to death. A chorus of male dancers wearing feathered war bonnets are drumming and singing while two central dancers dressed to look like a male and a female eagle. The dancers have yellow paint on their lower legs, white on their upper arms and dark blue bodies. They have short white feathers attached to their chests. They also wear a cap made of white feathers with a yellow beak-like protrusion. Bands of eagle feathers also span the length of their arms.
This dance was said to be performed by many tribes to bring rain at a time of year when the crops were planted and rain was vital. (Aun,2008) In conclusion, I would like to tell a story about the eagle that is very significant to me and my family. In 2000, I lost my step-brother tragically to murder. Five years later in 2005, my younger brother died in a fatal car accident. Both of them were Nez Pierce Indian and somewhat spiritual in their Indian heritage. When my younger brother died my mother put a drawing of an eagle on the program for the service.
After the memorial we went to the cemetery for the graveside service. During the service people started pointing toward the trees behind the seats we were sitting in. In our grief, we really didn’t pay much attention until someone said something aloud and we had to turn around and look to see what everyone was going on about. To my and my families surprise there were two bald eagles in the pine tree directly behind us. To this day I feel comforted by this. I know that those two eagles were my brothers and that was the creators’ way of consoling my family. Wicasa, Wandidi