Of all the animals that Native American
cultures have used through the millennia, the eagle has played an
especially important role. Bald and golden eagles are used for
headdresses, ceremonial attire, staff, ritual whistles, and many
other sacred items. Eagles are among the principal animal totems,
referenced in mythic stories told by Native peoples across all of
Today in North America eagles are under constant threat,
from shrinking habitat to pesticides to electrocution to poaching.
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act strives to shield these
magnificent birds--by limiting the collection, possession, and
trade of eagles.
The National Eagle Repository, situated at the
northern edge of Denver, provides one means of ensuring the
eagles' protection while offering eagles to Native religious
practitioners. Eagles that have died are sent to this centralized
repository, which then distributes parts and feathers to Native
Americans. This agency thus plays a key role in conserving eagle
populations while helping to preserve Native cultures and
ensure Native peoples can fully exercise their cultural
I recently sat down with Bernatte Atencio to get a
rare behind-the-scenes look at what the National Eagle Repository
does and how it works.