Friday, February 03, 2006

Eagle Slaughter

It seems to me that they should be able to work with what they have to make some arrests or lay some fines in this case. Also I don't see why they can't just write a law that prohibits any non-native person from killing eagles and allows a certain number of eagles to be collected by native people according to their own eagle related rules. It's common practice to write laws based on religious traditions, 'thou shalt not kill' = homocide, so why can't we just make some native religious traditions into conservation law. Problem solved.
This case is so sad. I had an experience with a bald eagle on an island off of Vancouver island when I was 16 that I will never forget for as long as I live. We took a water taxi out to this uninhabited island to go hiking and we walked deep into the interior of the island, it's a strange feeling for a city kid like me to be on an island where there isn't another soul except the person you came with. All of a sudden it was dark, really dark we looked up and saw the biggest eagle ever swooping over us over the tops of the trees and then stopping in mid-air and folding it's wings and landing in the biggest nest ever in a tree top. Imagine the size a bird would have to be to cast a shadow so large while flying over the canopy of a forest that it would cause us to look up. That eagle was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen with my own two eyes and the thought of it being killed for it's feathers and talons makes me want to cry.

The honoured eagles
CBC News Online | February 2, 2006

Reporter: Duncan McCue
From The National | Feb. 3, 2006

For as long as can be remembered, many native peoples across North America have honoured eagles.

They're celebrated - in dances and spiritual ceremonies. Those ceremonies, once outlawed by officials determined to stamp out native religions, are back.

Farley Eaglespeaker
Farley Eaglespeaker is part of that revival.

He has spent his life learning those ceremonies. Sundance, powwow, sweat lodges. Even his traditional name, Eagle boy, shows respect for eagles.

"The first creations on the Earth here, before man, were the birds. The eagle was the king bird of this world….This is the native teaching from way back: when we make a prayer, the eagle gets our prayers, and he takes them to the Creator, as close as he can get to the Creator, and he lets them go."

At home, he has eagle parts: wing feathers, a bone whistle, a tail.

To possess such sacred things, elders say, one must earn them. He got his as gifts. To have even one is a great honour.

"If you want to be a real traditional person, if you want to follow the teachings of the elders, not just anybody can have a whole bunch of eagle feathers," he says.

But not everyone follows traditions.

In February 2005, nearly 50 dead eagles without tails or talons were found on two Indian reserves in North Vancouver.

"It was kind of disturbing. Just the way they were taken care of, they weren't taken care of properly; they were just disposed of like garbage," Eaglespeaker says.

The work, wildlife officers declared, was that of an eagle parts trafficking ring. The parts, they say, were mostly headed for the competitive powwow circuit in the United States, where a whole bird can sell for as much as $5,000.

It adds up to a lot of money. Or a lot of dead eagles, says Lance Sundquist, head wildlife officer for B.C.'s south coast.

"We're probably seeing something in the vicinity of 500 eagles per year being harvested to support what we consider to be the illegal trade of these animals," Sundquist says.

Five hundred dead eagles are not enough to threaten B.C.'s overall eagle population. But, Sundquist says, "It's significant. It's an unregulated harvest, something we would consider to be unregulated, therefore it creates a conservation concern with regards to discrete populations of eagles, both here in B.C. as well as potentially in the United States."

According to B.C.'s Wildlife Act, no one can possess a dead eagle or eagle parts unless authorized by officials. The penalty? Up to a $50,000 fine or six months in jail.

Those who want eagle parts, legally, must find them, discarded naturally. Or they can apply to wildlife officials, who distribute birds dead from natural causes. But that waiting list is long.

There's that black market. But to buy eagle parts is both illegal, and contrary to native teachings.

"Nowadays, you got people takin' it on their own to get a hold of their birds," Eaglespeaker says. "Maybe they buy them, maybe they kill (the birds) themselves, I don't know. But they turn the feathers into a market. When you talk to elders even today, they say it's not good, it's not good to do that."

That takes us back to those eagle carcasses. Shortly after they were found, officials called for a mysterious suspect to come forward. He never did.

A year later, no one has been charged. Here's what's perplexing about the delay: many claim they know who's behind those dead eagles. Over 100 tips poured in to the three wildlife officers on this file. Clearly, though, not the kind of information they need to crack the case. So, there's been no closure. And that leaves some people wrestling with what they've seen.

Fabian Williams
Fabian Williams remembers those dead eagles as he gathers wood for his sweat lodge. When he heard officers had found them near his lodge on the Tsle-way-tuuth reserve, he went to help dig them up.

"It was in dark time and we found 14 eagles, and they were mature eagles," he says.

His first thought? Only a week before, he had visited a man he knew from ceremonies. What he saw made him sick.

"He showed me all these eagle claws, and I asked him how many you got in there, and he said, 'I got 14.'

"'I said, 'Well, that's 28 claws that he had,'" Williams recalls.

"And I said, 'Holy cripes, what are you doing with all of those?'

"He said. 'Oh I'm making staffs,' and he grabbed the bag right away and he went and put them in the freezer. Right after that, I felt sick and didn't feel very good, and my stomach was turning, and things were going wrong."

Jimmy Joseph
The man with all those talons is a carver whose work is displayed in art galleries across B.C. He participates in native ceremonies in Canada and the U.S. He lives in east Vancouver. His name is Jimmy Joseph.

Williams told his chief and council about Joseph the day after the eagles were found.

"They said they would pass it on to conservation officers, and what happened from there, it seemed that they did not believe me on my words, and they did nothing about going in to Jimmy Jo's house and retrieving the rest of the birds," Williams says.

Elder Ernie George of the Tsle-way-tuuth band says the band gave all the information it had to officers... And has no more authority than that.

"We've worked with the conservation officers and they've gone as far as they can," George says. "And I say to them people, 'What's wrong with your justice system? If we can't do nothing, we got to do it your way. OK, help us do it your way then. '"

Wildlife officers will only say they've never made contact with the suspect.

"With regard to the specifics of making contact with persons of interest, or not, or where we do that within the investigation, again that's part of our investigation, and I'm not about to tip our hand at this point in time," Sundquist says.

What officers did was follow every lead, including a tip that implicated Eaglespeaker and a spiritual group he belongs to, the Native American Church. He met with officers, to deny that.

"It upset me that somebody said that the NAC was involved in a ring, because we're not. The person that did these things were on his own," Eaglespeaker says.

That person was Joseph. He was once a friend to Eaglespeaker, until about two years ago, when Joseph invited Eaglespeaker to this North Vancouver home, where he had spread out 40 dead eagles.

"My reaction was, I (have) never seen so many birds in one place in my life," Eaglespeaker says. "And I was thinking, wow this is like a morgue. It was like people in there, to me,because my Indian name is Eagle Boy, right?"

Joseph handed him a knife, asked for help to cut off their wings and tails. Eaglespeaker refused.

"I told him, 'Maybe you shouldn't do that.'

"And he said, 'Why?'

"And I said, 'It's not right. It's not good.'"

"He said, 'Well, that's white man way.'

"And I said, 'Well, it's not good in our ways, too. Because you have to have a ceremony to get lots of eagles and try and distribute them like that.' I said, 'Us natives, we'll be quiet but'… I said, 'If this gets out in the open, you'll be in big trouble.'"

It wasn't the only incident that disturbed Eaglespeaker. Another time, Eaglespeaker found himself at the Vancouver airport with Joseph and his nephew, heading to Ontario for a ceremony. Joseph asked Eaglespeaker to carry a bag.

"And I said, 'What's in there?'

"He told me what was in there: feathers, eagle feathers. And I said, 'No I can't do this. You'll get me in trouble, I'm going away to a ceremony, I don't want nothing to do with it, I don't want nothing to do with it.'"

He looked in the bag, and saw an eagle wing and cedar boughs. Joseph's nephew took it.

"All the way over on the flight, I was really nervous," Eaglespeaker says. "I was thinking, 'Geez, we're sitting there together, I'm also a law-abiding person, I'm afraid of the law.' I was thinking about what would happen if we got caught with those things. I was put in a place I didn't want to be in, that's why I'm telling you this information."

Farley says Joseph didn't kill eagles. Nor did he ask what Joseph was doing with them. All he knew was that they spelled trouble. But it turns out, it may to be legal to possess lots of eagle parts.

Sundquist says, "I think one of the first questions that would come to the mind of a conservation officer is, 'What's the purpose of that? Is this being used for societal uses, ceremonial uses, within that community? Which if it is, potentially there's an aboriginal right to be doing that.'"

Aboriginal people in Canada have legal rights to harvest wildlife they traditionally harvested, or to trade wildlife they historically traded.

Those rights - when it comes to eagles - have never been asserted in court. But, if anyone is charged, wildlife officers believe it could be a test case - for an aboriginal eagle harvest.

"There has been some suggestion by some aboriginal groups that there was harvest of eagles prior to European contact," Sundquist says.

Still, to Fabian Williams, this is more than a legal issue. It's a spiritual one. He says dead eagles must be honoured.

"I wait a long time for conservation officers to get an eagle from those people, and when I get that eagle, I give it a ceremony, I give it a Inipi ceremony and put it up on my sweat lodge. I hold it for four days, hold it like a baby, like it's going into the other side."

Those carcasses, he says, weren't honoured.

"Everybody knows who did it. Not just Jimmy. There were people that took the birds apart, and people who helped Jimmy with all the birds, taking them apart," Williams says.

"Something's gotta be done, even if it's through the elders in our old ways, or through court or something, because this is a crime that's been committed to the Nation of Eagles."

As for any crime under B.C.'s Wildlife Act, investigators say they'll take all the time they need.

"If people are aware of illegal activities, they need to bring that forward," Sundquist says.

Joseph didn't respond to our interview requests. So, we took the allegations to him.

"People are saying a lot of things. People are jealous, that's what's going on right now," Joseph says.

But he wouldn't give specifics.

"Is that the case, that you had 40 dead eagles in North Van?" reporter Duncan McCue asked.

"I can't talk right now, I'm heading to the ferry, airport. I'll phone you when I get back," Joseph replied.

He never phoned back.

Eaglespeaker, meanwhile, grapples with what he knows, skeptical that wildlife officers and the white man's courts offer any spiritual healing. And he avoids any involvement with Joseph.

"Actually I don't want anything to do with him right now or any of the people involved with that. Is there more that you haven't told us, too? If it comes to that, I'll have to say what I have to say. If it comes to that. If I'm involved, if I'm accused of something, then I'll have to. I'm not being a rat. I'm being honest."

Which leaves wildlife officers struggling to build their case, First Nations, powerless to enforce their traditional laws and the eagles without protection.

1 comment:

Trib said...

Wow. Interesting!