SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A plan by a Native American tribe to kill two bald eagles for use in a religious rite has drawn the ire of a fellow tribe, which says it doesn't want any eagles sacrificed on the Wyoming reservation they share.
An attorney for the Eastern Shoshone tribe told Reuters on Thursday that killing bald eagles on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming would violate its religious beliefs, threaten tribal sovereignty and was "unacceptable."
"To the Eastern Shoshone, the eagle is our messenger to the creator. There's a very spiritual relationship between eagles and the creator, and to harm eagles in any way is unacceptable," the tribe's attorney general, Kimberly Varilek, told Reuters.
The other tribe, the Northern Arapaho, hopes to capture the eagles on the 2.2 million-acre reservation rather than on public lands elsewhere in Wyoming as spelled out in a federal permit.
The fact that two tribes do not share the same beliefs about the handling of a bird sacred to both speaks to the complexity of two sovereign nations inhabiting a single reservation.
The disagreement has bubbled to the surface since March, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted the permit to the Northern Arapaho to capture the iconic birds off the reservation because of the objections by the Eastern Shoshone.
But Wyoming bans the killing of bald eagles in the state, which the Northern Arapaho say makes it virtually impossible for them to carry out their plan. They have since filed an amended complaint asking to take the birds from tribal land.
"It's a permit for a tribal member to get arrested and prosecuted by the state government instead of the federal government," said Andrew Baldwin, attorney for the Northern Arapaho.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said in an email that it was working closely with Wyoming and the Northern Arapaho "to identify a solution that is satisfactory to all parties."
The Eastern Shoshone are not inclined to wait. The tribe this week filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking permission to advise the federal judge in the lawsuit about tribal members' religious, cultural and legal objections to the killing of bald eagles on the reservation, which is inhabited by 3,500 Eastern Shoshones and 9,600 Northern Arapahos.
It is mostly illegal to kill the national bird, which was removed from the U.S. federal threatened and endangered species list in 2007 but still is safeguarded by laws like the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The plan by the Northern Arapaho to use bald eagles in their has stirred debate outside Indian lands.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, has called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clear bureaucratic hurdles and ensure tribes receive feathers and eagle parts for use in their rituals.
The service has a national repository for eagles and eagle parts, taken from eagles that died naturally, and the parts are distributed to Native American tribes for their use in religious rites.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Anthony Boadle