Feds collect dead eagles to help Native traditions

04/05/2010 07:40 AM
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The bald eagle may be America's emblem, but the birds are susceptible to the same dangers as the average crow. Each year, thousands of bald eagles are hit by cars, electrocuted and accidentally poisoned.

But unlike crows or any other bird in America, the U.S. government takes a special interest in what happens to these birds after they die.

This is where Steve Smith, maybe the only person in Alaska legally allowed to keep a freezer full of dead bald eagles, comes in.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer is in charge of a salvage effort to collect dead bald and golden eagles and send them to an obscure federal agency called the National Eagle Repository.

On this morning, the freezer, housed in a Fish and Wildlife facility near the Anchorage airport, contains one half-dozen bald eagles wrapped carefully in black garbage bags. One is from the Kenai Peninsula town of Soldotna, another from the Aleutian fishing outpost of Dutch Harbor. Smith will prepare them in airtight packaging to be sent to the Colorado repository. He takes his duty to the national bird seriously.

"Living or dead, I treat them with great respect and care," he says.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has quietly collected, processed and distributed dead eagles via the repository in an effort to balance conservation efforts with helping Native American tribes continue traditional practices.

At the Commerce City, Colo., agency birds are processed and then distributed to members of federally-recognized tribes who have applied for whole birds, parts or feathers for use in religious and cultural ceremonies. Some tribes have criticized the repository, saying it takes too long to get the birds. The wait for the most requested item, a whole bald eagle, can take up to three years. The average wait for feathers is more than one year.

The Fish and Wildlife's salvage operations take place in every state where bald eagles are found. But maybe nowhere is busier than Alaska — the only U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated region that's made up of a single state.

During the 2008-2009 year, Alaska contributed 163 salvaged bald eagles to the repository. By contrast, a region made up of the Rocky Mountain States plus the Dakotas, Utah, Nebraska and Kansas contributed 162 birds.

Alaska has the largest concentration of bald eagles in the country — almost half the total population. In the southeastern Alaska town of Haines, up to 3,000-4,000 eagles gather along the Chilkat River's salmon run during October to December, when the town holds its annual "Bald Eagle Festival."

Smith gets calls almost every day about eagles — both dead and injured — that are coming in to Anchorage. On this sunny late winter day, he's on his way to a regional air carrier's cargo offices to pick up a few birds.

"We take them no matter what condition they're in — if they're on the side of the road for a while, if some animal has been chewing on it, we take all of them," he says. Many of the birds salvaged by Smith are flown in (all the state's air carriers allow injured eagles to fly for free; dead eagles are shipped as paid cargo) from remote areas.

More and more, Smith also receives injured eagles, who are rushed to a local bird rescue nonprofit for treatment and rehabilitation. Since starting the job in October, 40 injured eagles have been sent to Anchorage, but not all survived.

The birds usually come in one at a time — struck by cars, electrocuted — but occasionally arrive after a massive incident. A few years ago an Ocean Beauty Seafoods truck in Kodiak pulled out of a parking lot carrying an uncovered load of fish slime. In seconds, 50 nearby eagles dove in, attracted to the smell. Around 20 drowned in the goo; the rest flooded into Anchorage's Bird TLC emergency room for treatment.

"They just started pulling eagles out and sorting them into piles of living and dead," says Cindy Palmatier, who runs avian rehabilitation services at the Anchorage nonprofit.

Another mass bald eagle death occurred last winter, when an avalanche at the Dutch Harbor city dump killed 12 eagles. One survivor was sent to Anchorage and quickly worked her way into the heart of Smith, who calls the convalescing bird "Avalanche Girl."

Dealing with dead eagles every day can be grim, Smith says, but increasingly successful — rescues and the knowledge that dead birds' parts and feathers are going to be used comfort him.

On weekends, when Smith disappears into the valleys and hiking trails around Anchorage he occasionally spots a bald eagle from afar.

"I'm always happy when I see them in the wild and they're healthy and happy," he says. "I watch them and think, don't screw this up."


11/20/2014 02:48 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee artist Lisa Rutherford will leave for Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1 to take part in the National Museum of the American Indian’s Artist Leadership Program for Individual Artists. The Tahlequah resident will be there until Dec. 12 to conduct research on 18th and 19th century textiles, fibers and cordage of the Mississippian culture in the collections of the NMAI, Smithsonian Institute and other local museums. “I’m hoping to learn some new, more advanced techniques to share with the Diligwa Village staff,” Rutherford said. Rutherford worked this past summer in the Diligwa Village at the Cherokee Heritage Center located in Park Hill. The Diligwa Village provides guests with an enhanced experience of authentic Cherokee life and history during the early 1700s. Rutherford is a skilled and an award-winning potter. She is also skilled at making Cherokee baskets, Cherokee-style clothing, beadwork pieces and feather capes. She and three other Native artists will receive assistance to make appointments for training and museum research visits. While in Washington, artists will also be provided professional training services that may include developing PowerPoint presentations, web portfolios, video oversight and direction, marketing and career strategies, and business and leadership skills. All ALP participants are asked to take part in a public art panel discussion titled “Bringing It Home: Artists Reconnecting Cultural Heritage with Community,” and to provide a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation about their art, research and community project to the public at the museum. This presentation will be developed in a training session and presented initially to NMAI staff during an informal brown-bag lunch. The public art panel discussion will be webcast live and archived on the NMAI YouTube channel. Following the research visit to Washington each artist will return home to facilitate a community project to share knowledge learned from the experience and research. “I will do a lecture at the Cherokee Arts Center at 6 p.m. on Friday Jan. 16 and a community workshop will be held at Cherokee Heritage Center on Saturday Jan. 17,” Rutherford said. “The workshop is limited to about 15 people, and I will teach twining techniques.” For more information about the American Indian’s Artist Leadership Program for Individual Artists, visit <a href="http://www.AmericanIndian.si.edu" target="_blank">www.AmericanIndian.si.edu</a>.
11/20/2014 12:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians will offer a class on making stickball sticks from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 22 at the John Hair Cultural Center & Museum. The class will be held outdoors around an open fire. Registration is $40 per person. Advance registration is required. UKB members receive a 50 percent discount and must present a UKB citizenship card. Registration fees help cover cost of supplies, instruction and lunch. The class is open to the general public but is designed for people 18 and older. Stickball sticks are typically made of hickory because of its hardness and the wood was common in the eastern woodlands of North America, where the game originated. Stickball is similar in ways to the game of lacrosse, except that the ball is carried and thrown with two sticks that grasp the ball rather than with a single stick as in lacrosse. The ball is made of a rock covered with hair, and then it is covered again with hide, which is sewn on with sinew, making a cover akin to that of a baseball. Stickball began in prehistoric times as a way for tribes to settle disputes without going to war. The game was violent and sometimes led to deaths or severe injuries. However, for most men it was preferable to the more significant deaths and injuries that occurred in full-fledged warfare. To register, visit <a href="http://www.keetoowahcherokee.org" target="_blank">www.keetoowahcherokee.or </a> or call 918-772-4389. The John Hair Cultural Center & Museum is located at 18627 Keetoowah Circle.
11/19/2014 02:04 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Santa Claus will visit the Will Rogers Memorial Museum three Saturdays in December when admission will be free to all. Museum Director Tad Jones said Santa Claus will be in the Museum from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 6, 13 and 20 to visit with children and adults. Santa will be seated by the fireplace in the Heritage Gallery. Parents are invited to take photos. “We want to invite families to bring their children to visit Santa, tour the museum and shop our museum store to find great deals on Christmas gifts,” Jones said. The museum store sale will continue until the end of the year with T-shirts and hats on sale at buy-one-get-one-free. Many store items are 35 percent off. The store is open daily (except the holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The mission of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum is to collect, preserve and share the life, wisdom and humor of Will Rogers for all generations. For more information, call 918-341-0719 or visit <a href="http://www.willrogers.com" target="_blank">www.willrogers.com</a>.
Senior Reporter
11/19/2014 08:19 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A member of the rock group Foreigner surprised the Cherokee National Youth Choir on Nov. 13 at the Tribal Complex with a $10,000 check. Bassist Jeff Pilson surprised the choir as it was singing for CN citizens in the lobby. Pilson said the choir had won a contest sponsored by Foreigner and the GRAMMY Foundation, which has a longtime commitment to high school music programs. “It’s a result of your hard work, your amazing singing, what you’re doing for your community, what you are doing for the Cherokee tribe and what you’re doing for high school music programs from all across the country,” Pilson said. “Thank you for everything you’ve done. We could not be more proud of, and we could not be more happy to be associated with anybody than how we’ve been with you guys.” During the past year a contest was held among high school music choirs that had sang with Foreigner on stage as part of an effort to raise money for high school music education. Contestants submitted public service announcements to show their love of music. “This choir did an amazing thing where they sang our song, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” in Cherokee, and it just grabbed our heartstrings, and we knew immediately they were the winners,” Pilson said. “It was amazing. So we’re here to present them a check for $10,000. We wanted to do it in person and we happened to be in the Tulsa area, so it worked out great.” CNYC Director Mary Kay Henderson said her assistant, Kathy Sierra, translates the songs the choir sings into Cherokee. In 2013, Sierra translated the song “I Want to Know What Love Is” before the choir sang the song with Foreigner at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa. The choir was again invited to sing with the band on Nov. 13 in Tulsa. Henderson said the tribe’s Communications Department worked on the PSA with the choir and “the kids connected with it.” “It helps them share their language. It helps them share their culture. We had the kids write the script for it, and it’s just awesome,” she said. She said the PSA was submitted and that she didn’t hear back until “several months ago” when she received a call that the CNYC had won. The choir will use the $10,000 for travel expenses and studio recording time. Natalie Gibson, of Afton, said making the PSA was fun and that choir members were determined “to give it a shot.” She said members were hopeful they would win and “were excited and surprised” they did. Pilson said 120 groups submitted a PSA, which was narrowed down to three groups before the CNYC was chosen. He said Foreigner has been helping choirs for several years and plans to continue. “It’s been very, very rewarding,” he said. He added that the CNYC “is great,” and “watching them sing in Cherokee is just such an important thing.” “Sometimes in this big old corporate world that we live in you lose sight of some of the important things – family, friends and culture, and to see them sing in their native language, it just really moved us,” Pilson said. “It makes us realize that’s what music’s all about – communicating and getting emotion across. It’s so wonderful these guys are doing something so special for the tribe and for high school music programs across the country.” The CNYC is a way for Cherokee youth to learn the tribe’s language and share it. The choir has produced 12 CDs, the most recent a 12-track disc titled “From the East.” It offers songs from the Cherokees’ ancestral homeland in the East. Foreigner is known for its hits “Cold as Ice,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and “Jukebox Hero.” Foreigner and the GRAMMY Foundation have a relationship to foster music programs in schools. Foreigner has donated more than $600,000 to schools and other causes over the years.
11/14/2014 11:36 AM
RED CLAY, Tenn. – A new exhibit at Red Clay State Historic Park explains what happened to the Cherokee people who stayed behind during the forced removal of Cherokees from their homelands in 1838. Dr. R. Michael Abram curated the exhibit titled “Persistence, Resistance, Perseverance Formed the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Chapter 211 Corporate Charter.” The goal is to explain what happened to the Cherokees who did not leave on the Trail of Tears. Abram utilized photocopied documents, portraits and pieces of original Cherokee art to outline the history of the EBCI. The exhibit touches on the Treaty of 1817, the Treaty of 1819 and an excerpt from the Treaty of New Echota that gave up remaining Cherokee lands in the east in 1835. The timeline picks up in the late 1830s and continues through to present day with a list of the current and past chiefs. The EBCI received its name through the Indian Appropriations Act of 1870, Abram said. The band was primarily comprised of Cherokee from three areas: those who escaped persecution and the Trail of Tears in northern Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee by fleeing to the mountains; the Cherokee who lived in western North Carolina; and the Cherokee settled along the Oconaluftee River. The exhibit also details the relationship between the Cherokee and William Holland Thomas who acted as a bridge between the Cherokee people and the federal and state governments. In 2013, Abrams curated “Fewer Footprints and More Tears” with items provided by the Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery in Cherokee, North Carolina. That exhibit was to help people understand the Trail of Tears by providing in-depth information on the Cherokee culture. “Persistence, Resistance, Perseverance Formed the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Chapter 211 Corporate Charter” will be available through Dec. 15 at the Red Clay State Historic Park. Those interested in learning more about the exhibit or hosting the collection can call 334-707-0287.
Senior Reporter
11/12/2014 01:36 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – The Cherokee National Youth Choir released its 12th CD during an Oct. 28 launch party at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Cultural songs from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians inspired the 12-track CD titled “From the East.” The CD offers listeners an opportunity to experience songs from the Cherokees’ ancestral homeland that are sung in the Cherokee language. The launch party included a live performance by the 28-member choir and Cherokee opera singer Barbara McAlister, who makes a special performance on the album. Kathy Sierra, Cherokee language teacher and CNYC travel coordinator, said she first heard the songs being sung by EBCI citizen Marie Junaluska at a Cherokee language meeting. “Ever since then, they’ve been on mind to record them, to get them collected and have the kids sing them,” Sierra said. Before the choir went into the studio to record, Sierra and CNYC Director Mary Kay Henderson worked with choir members to prepare them for their studio time. “We set the date months ahead of time when we know we’re going to record, so they know in their mind when they’re going to record and they should by then know their words,” Sierra said. Sierra has worked with and shared her Cherokee language knowledge with the choir for 13 years. She said she sees the boys and girls she mentors grow and that many of them let go of school projects and organizations to concentrate solely on the choir. Along with building their self-esteem, Sierra said members share the Cherokee language with the world. Garrett Million of Lowery said his two years singing with the choir has been “the most amazing experience.” “I not only get to learn the Cherokee language, but I get to share it with the rest of the country, and it’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “Being able to visit all these places has been insane.” The choir partook in the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Million said he had always wanted to visit New York City and being able to perform in front of millions of people was “a memory he won’t forget.” The choir also routinely sings with the nationally known singers such as Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, classic rock group Foreigner and the Oak Ridge Boys. Recently, it performed with the Tulsa Signature Symphony at the Tulsa State Fair and with Nashville songwriter Becky Hobbs at the Cherokee National Holiday. Making the new CD was “a fun experience,” Million said, because it allowed him to grow closer to other choir members, especially newer members. Lacie Melton of Leach has been singing with the choir for a year and a half. She said making the CD in July was “tiring but fun.” The recording session was like a longer practice session, she said, but she enjoyed learning the songs and singing them. The song “Prodigal Son” has approximately 10 verses and was hard to learn, she said, but she welcomed the challenge. “I enjoy learning about our culture and the songs and everything. I like the more upbeat songs, but I enjoy learning all of them,” Melton said. “I just love being in the choir, love the traveling and really appreciate being able to do it. I’m really glad I get to have my little sister (Lauren Melton) along with me to do this.” The choir was founded in 2000 as a way to keep youth involved with the Cherokee language and culture. Its previous CD “Cherokee America” contained patriotic tunes and was released in 2012. CNYC albums, including “From the East,” can be purchased on iTunes. Individual choir members are selling the CD for $10. Cherokee Nation Gift Shops are also selling it for $14.95. “The staff and choir members truly enjoyed creating the album, and we hope listeners will enjoy the songs and feel the connection to our brothers and sisters back east. They (songs) were very, very old, so we decided we wanted to keep those songs and give them to the kids so they would know where they came from,” Henderson said. For more information, call Henderson at 918-772-4172 or Sierra at 918-453-5638 or email <a href="mailto: youthchoir@cherokee.org">youthchoir@cherokee.org</a>.