Killing a National Symbol v. Religious Freedom

A long while ago in our unit on civil liberties and civil rights, we touched on the situation of American Indian tribes and how they are treated today.

Created in 1936, the Northern Arapaho flag has much meaning and symbolism to it. Something pretty cool: the circle in the middle of the triangle is black on the left to represent where the heart is and red on the right to represent the human side -- "our happiness, strength, and sorrowful ways." - Northern Arapaho Tribe website

Yesterday I read in the news about how the Northern Arapaho tribe, who share a reservation with the Eastern Shoshone in Wyoming, was given a rare federal permit to kill two bald eagles off of their land for religious purposes. Last year they filed a lawsuit when they were refused such a permit because they felt their religious freedom was being violated.


This story brings up a lot of issues regarding both civil liberties and rights – shouldn’t there be little issue respecting this tribe’s liberties under the free exercise clause of the 1st amendment in the Constitution? And what’s with the seemingly racist backlash seen already from people commenting on news articles about this issue? Well of course it is justified for Americans to feel upset over the killing of a national symbol. Conservationists have been working so hard on bringing the once endangered bald eagle’s population back to healthy numbers. So yes, I can see why there is some outrage over this. However, most opinions I’ve seen on this in the past couple hours suggest the basis for the granting of this permit being religious exercise—and not for food or other purposes—is wrong. I feel that such an opinion is baseless if people don’t understand the spirituality of tribal religions.

I also learned that many other tribes have chosen to apply for eagle feathers and carcasses from a federal repository, which makes the granting of this permit very rare. Before our Gov class’s unit on civil liberties/rights I would’ve jumped to questioning why the Northern Arapaho can’t just go along with what all other tribes have been doing and play it safe. But now that I am more enlightened on the history and current standing of American Indians, I support the kind of stand the Northern Arapaho are taking – they are a sovereign, separate tribe with their own unique cultural background and don’t deserve to be thrown in with “every other tribe”.

This story really spoke to me because I realize that although most Americans have learned about our country’s harsh treatment of native tribes in the past, we actually don’t know enough about how they are faring now. The fact that treaty after treaty between our government and American Indian tribes has been broken shows that we still have a long way to go before we show true respect for these approximately 2.5 million people. Here’s a TED presentation that I really, really, really encourage you to watch.

The Native Americans in our country have long been subjected to discrimination and now seem to have been forgotten or at least hidden on their reservations. I didn’t REALLY know what these people have gone through and I’m happy that Aaron Huey from the TED talk showed the experiences of a particular group, the Lakota living on the Pine Ridge reservation, who live in extreme poverty.

Well, overall I have to say that I support the government’s move to grant this permit. I may not understand the whole background to all opinions on this story, but I do think our government is right to show more respect for this discriminated group.



  1. Nice post. I like how you embedded the TED presentation into your post. Discrimintaed group or not, aren’t the civil liberties granted in the constitution supposed to be granted to all? I like how you mentioned the fact that some may not understand the spiritual nature of Native American tribes, even though, in my opinion, it shouldn’t matter when it comes to granting people rights guaranteed in the constitution. Whether you understand an individual’s or group’s religion or not, the 1st amendment is supposed to protect them.

    Good luck with the rest of class.
    Steve DeBoer
    Westborough High School
    Westborough, MA
    Twitter: @whs_mr_deboer


    • Thanks for reading my post Mr. DeBoer! Yes, just because we may not understand another religion does not mean it deserves any less protection or respect under the 1st amendment.



  2. I agree with you in that the Arapaho have been granted this rare permit and should be able to exercise their religious freedoms. About the racist comments, well, with the state of the US now, it is not shocking at all. You would think, that in 2012, there would be more tolerance, empathy and understanding in the world, but, unfortunately, that is not the case.


    • Hi Anna,

      Yeah, I’m not shocked either that there is still so much intolerance in our society. Ignorance is overcome by education, which is given, and open-mindedness, which obviously starts with the individual. As for the education part, I’d like people to explore beyond what we may have been taught in school. I think people can be motivated to activism and understanding by sharing our knowledge like through TED presentations. The Kony 2012 video that Jennifer blogged about is a great example of something that changes our ignorance and motivates many to be more open-minded.

      Thanks for reading!


  3. Great post. I think that your post especially the TED talk illustrates extremely well the huge human rights issue of the indigenous people in the United States. I hope that we can find a way in school to motivate people to activism. I think this kind of blog is a good start


    • Hi Mrs. Bauer!

      Thanks for reading my post. For this specific issue, I think it’s important for U.S. history teachers both in elementary/middle school and in high school to discuss what’s happened beyond the 1800s. I was pretty much unaware of how our country’s been treating Native Americans before I had U.S. history last year. I wish I could have been made aware of this in my classroom much earlier in my life, because I’d definitely be motivated to activism earlier on. I’m very thankful to have explored this issue in Gov!



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