Tribes Bless Eagle Burial Site
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Spiritual and cultural leaders representing the Oglala Lakota and southern Ute tribes coordinate honoring the cremated eagle remains. USFWS Photo

Between two trees on a section of restored prairie on Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado is a final resting place for eagle remains from the National Eagle Repository.

Last fall, Service staff and representatives from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, Oglala Lakota and Southern Ute participated in a blessing ceremony of the eagle burial site on the refuge. 

Originally, eagle bones and ash that remained after cremation went through the mainstream waste collection. But in 2017, the Service invited federally recognized tribes to schedule a visit to the Service’s National Eagle Repository.

One tribe requested the Service provide a more respectful and culturally appropriate alternative to dispose of remains of the eagles, a bird that tribes refer to as “brother eagle.”

Service staff collaborated with the tribes to develop a new process and identify an appropriate burial site on the refuge.

Away from public access, the site is tranquil, where an occasional deer or bison may stop to forage nearby. In the distance, the Rocky Mountains provide an impressive backdrop where the blue sky stretches the length of the Denver Front Range.

The prayer songs that were sung at the blessing brought what can only be described as a spiritual, emotional and magical moment for all present.

The songs seemed to attract a pair of bald eagles to fly over and circle the site. The pair briefly participated in the ceremony themselves before leaving as swiftly as they came. At the end of the ceremony, five bald eagles were seen flying in the near distance, circling higher and higher, delivering the blessings up to the Holy People and the Creator.

By MELISSA CASTIANO, Native American Liaison, with SARAH METZER, National Eagle Repository, Upper Colorado Basin Region

This story is from our Open Spaces blog.

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