Hopi eagle sacrifice offends Navajo

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July 1996:

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona––Members of the
Hopi Tribe must report their eaglet and hawk gathering activities
every five days to federal judge Earl Carroll and the
Navajo Nation until June 30, Carroll ruled on June 13, reaffirming
his May 8 preliminary verdict––and may take no
more than 12 golden eaglets and two red-tailed hawks from
Navajo land.
Carroll also refused a Hopi request to drop individual
criminal complaints against each of 11 Hopis who were
cited on May 2 for collecting two eaglets at Twin Horn Butte
without a permit from the Navajo Fish and Wildlife bureau.
The Hopi had asked Carroll for unlimited eaglet and
hawk gathering privileges. At issue were the customs and
ceremonies surrounding traditional Hopi eaglet and hawk sacrifice,
abhored by many Navajo, which may have begun
before recorded history in connection with Hopi resistance to
Navajo predation. The Hopi, descended from the cliffdwelling
Anasazi, are the northernmost people of the Aztec
linguistic family. The Navajo, related to the Shoshone, were
nomads before European settlement, who frequently raided
Hopi villages. The Navajo were and are by far the larger and
politically more powerful tribe.

According to Navajo Times writers Marley Shebala
and George Hardeen, the secret Hopi practices begin with a
coming-of-age rite in which young men are lowered on ropes
into eagle and hawk eyries, where they snatch eaglets and
leave tied bundles of prayer feathers. Back at the Hopi village,
the eaglets are ceremonially washed with corn pollen;
taken out into the sun after four days in darkness and given a
name; given either a bow and arrow if male or a kachina doll
if female; are given a second name; and are killed, out of
the presence of women, after the Hopi Home Dance in July,
the last of the annual sequence of kachina dances.
Wrote Shebala, based on an interview with an
anonymous Soyal Mongi, or senior Hopi religious leader,
“The Home Dance is when the kachinas return home. The
eagles are ‘sacrificed’ so they can take the prayers of the Hopi
people to the homes of the kachinas.” The remains are
skinned, not plucked, and certain parts are included in the
prayer bundles that are left in eagles’ nests the next year.
Shebala indicated there is controversy among the Hopi about
eagle sacrifice, too, because some villages purportedly kill
too many eagles; some capture eagles at night; and some
illegally traffic in eagle parts.
Eagle feathers are sacred to the Navajo as well as
the Hopi––but the Navajo generally get their feathers from the
live eagles at the 10-acre Navajo Nation Zoological Park,
whose curator, Loline Hathaway, 59, was formerly education
curator at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Hathaway and
her five animal keepers gather fallen feathers from the eagles
and other resident birds, then give them to the Navajo Fish
and Wildlife bureau for formal distribution. According to
Hathaway, the feathers from a live bird are far more powerful
than those of dead birds.
The Navajo Zoo opened in 1977. Recalled
Hathaway in 1990, for Charles Hillinger of the Los Angeles
Times, “Medicine men prayed that holy people like Changing
Woman and Spider Woman will not be upset because the
birds and animals are penned. Whenever an animal dies,”
she added, “I supply the carcass or parts to medicine men.
When animals are dying, it is a difficult time. The Navajo
keepers don’t want to get near the dying animal. They are
afraid the animal’s spirit might move into their body.”
Wrote Hillinger, “Visitors often bring corn pollen
to the zoo to sprinkle on the animals. Corn symbolizes the
Navajo’s origin. The Indians say prayers when they sprinkle
the pollen on an animal or bird and want to leave the zoo with
pollen that touched the animals. Some sprinkle pollen on the
roadrunner so they, as humans, will be able to run faster.”
On the other hand, said Hathaway, “When they
sprinkle corn pollen on a coyote or snake, it is usually done
for evil purposes. I try to stop that. No one has ever asked
me for owl feathers,” Hathaway continued. “If they did, I
know it would be for witchcraft.”
Hathaway cited one instance where a tractor was
abandoned simply because an owl feather fell on it.

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