I am re-posting Pastor Robert Soto’s post of February 11, 2014 regarding the ongoing Eagle Feather Case. Pastor Robert Soto wears a lot of hats and titles, including pastor, teacher, dancer, and friend. He is Lipan Apache. He is a warrior and a leader. We have been supporting Robert through this ordeal since the beginning through our First Nations Monday prayer network, social media, and my Across Turtle Island radio programs. Please forward and feel free to contact Robert through the email provided at the end of the article.
First and foremost, I want to thank you for your prayers concerning our fight in the Eagle Feather Case. It is your prayers that have helped us in this fight to change laws that discriminate against all our Indian people, whether they belong to a tribe recognized by the Federal Government or a tribe recognized by the state or just for those who belong to neither. This is a battle that is now approaching its eighth year. It all started back on March 11, 2006 when several agents of the Department of Interior came during the morning session of our annual Spring pow wow and took pictures and video of all the dancers at our pow wow. Then an agent came back in the afternoon to target as many dancers as he could and take away their eagle feathers. In the end, forty-two of our feathers, thirty-six of which were given to me in 1971, were taken away.
On January 8, 2014, our lawyers were summoned to appear before the 15th District Federal Courts of Appeals in New Orleans Louisiana by three federal judges who wanted further explanations in our case. The miracle of all this is that only 100 of about 100,000 cases are heard by the District Courts of Appeals. Both our lawyers and the lawyer of the Department of Interior were called in to further explain the positions that they and we are taking. I do not have time to explain everything that happened at the summon but three things were established that might help us in the future. First of all, the federal Lawyers admitted that state-recognized Indians are just as much Indian as federally recognized Indians. Secondly, it was established that because of Federal laws and policies established by the federal government, they have produced two classes of Natives: one who qualifies for all benefits given by the federal government because their tribes are recognized by the federal government, and those who are just as much Indian as the others but who do not qualify for those same privileges because their tribes are not recognized by the federal government. The third thing that came out at the hearing was that a government which has established “Separation of Church and State” is now dictating who can worship as a Native and who cannot, and who can used sacred objects like Eagle Feathers as part of their religious practices and who cannot. Furthermore, our lawyers brought up that the Department of interior granted permits to let wind farms kill eagles for up to 30 years. They can kill eagles and get away with it but if a Native person finds a feather on the ground and picks it up, that person is in danger of being penalized and thrown into prison.
A lot of other issues came out in the hearing in which two of the three judges seemed to favor our cause over the government’s. I am writing now to inform you that the case will now be reviewed by the three judges who will make a decision any time between four to six weeks after the January 8th hearing, and to ask for your prayers. Our lawyers left the courtroom very confident that things went our way, but as we have learned before, that does not mean much when it comes to the federal government. So I ask you to keep this in your prayers as they make another decision.
I have been asked, what will happen after the hearing? It is my understanding that if we win and the government loses, they will appeal the case. Then if we lose and the government wins, we will appeal the case one more time. lf we have to appeal the case, it will go back to the 5th District Court of Appeals where our argument will be heard one more time. If we lose the second round and we decide to appeal it again, it goes to the Supreme Court, that is pending if they decide to hear the case.
I also want to stress that this lawsuit is not to get our feathers back. It is to change laws that govern the rights of all Native People. Laws that discriminate and dictate who can and who cannot practice what we call our Rights given to us by God the Creator to be who we are, American Indians. As I have said before, this is not about the feathers. We just want to be who we were created to be, American Indians. So I ask you to keep us in prayer, because whether we win or lose, the fight will continue until we cannot fight any more. But even if we lose in the highest court of the land, it will not change who I am and what in my heart I feel were rights given to me, not by the United States Government, but by God the Creator when I was born into a group of people known as the Lipan Apaches.
I would like to thank our attorneys, Milo Colton and Marisa Salazar, for their sincere, devoted and tireless commitment to see this through. They are an awesome team. God the Creator could not have sent us a better team. I would also like to thank the people of McAllen Grace Brethren Church whose prayers and support has gotten us this far.
God bless you and again, thank you for your many years of support, as well as for your prayers.
Robert Soto, Pastor
NEW UPDATE: For the August 2014 update about winning this case, click HERE.