(NOTE: The below message is written by Robert Soto. You will find his contact information at the end. PLEASE read and celebrate with us!)
June 14, 2016
A DAY TO REMEMBER
II Samuel 22:17-18 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.”
As you have already figured out, back on March 11, 2006 the Department of Interior sent uncover agents to investigate a complaint from a Native who not only worked for the Department of Interior but was from one of our federally acknowledged tribes. We had accepted him into our circle and one of our dancers who happened to teach at the university he attended had decided to tutor him as he was struggling academically and needed to pass her course to get his degree. From the very beginning I did not trust him; after all, he was a federal agent and by experience the federal government had planted feds in the midst of Natives to see if they were violating any federal laws. Well, on October 2005 he filed a compliant against us but the paperwork was not filed on time for our fall pow wow so the Department of Interior waited for our spring pow wow to come in for the kill. What was the problem? The complaint was filed that non-Indians, or Indians not belonging to a tribe acknowledged by the federal government, were illegally using eagle feathers as part of their pow wow celebrations. At that time my first lawyer told me I was facing the possibility of fifteen years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. My first lawyer which volunteered his time and talents got me out of that mess and for that I was eternally thankful. He was a youth pastor and a Christian and told me he could not see a fellow pastor go to prison for this.
After I was cleared of all charges and my first lawyer proved that I was a legitimate American Indian, I felt I could not just sit around my house praising God that I was not going to prison. I felt God wanted me to do more – but what? No one had ever won against the government on this issue. People came to me and told me to let it go and just be thankful, but as thankful as I was for God’s favor on me, I still felt I had to do more. But I also knew that if I was going to win, it would have to be all God and none of me. Well, long story short, two more lawyers came in that had never defended an eagle feather case. I knew if we were going to win, they were going to have to do their research and God was going to have to give them the wisdom to win. We lost in the lower courts after seven years and eight months of fighting. Most cases of this type are won by our people in the lower courts but lost in the court of appeals. Once again I was told to stop and move on but I still felt in my heart I had to fight. So we went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and in August 2014 I got the news that we had won. A greater miracle was that on March 10, 2015 I got the fifty feathers back that they had taken. I did not want them because of all the restrictions but my lawyer suggested that I should take them and keep on fighting for things to change. Well, for the last year and a half we have been negotiating with the Department of Interior and today I want you to be the first to know, “WE FINALLY WON!” The lawsuit is over and God the Creator has given us more than we ever imagined; not money, but just the right to say we have made things a little better for our Native Community. But the fight was not ours, the fight was the LORD’s. We could never have accomplished and won the fight without His help. It is like Samuel wrote, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.” Today I am singing, “PRAISE BE TO GOD FOR TO HIM BELONGS THE GLORY AND VICTORY!” It is truly a day to remember.
For now I want to thank the thousands who have been praying for us in the last ten and a half years.
Robert Soto Lipan Apache and Pastor of:
McAllen Grace Brethren Church
Native American New Life Center
Chief of Chiefs Christian Church
My Rock Native Fellowship
Vice Chairman of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas