Lipan Apache Tribe Win|
Federal Court Appeal in Defense
of Their Religious Freedom
From Robert Soto: The Truth about this Case
Well, it has been an interesting seven and half year journey. Most of you have no clue as
to why we filed the law suit. It started on March 11, 2006 when agents from the Department
of Interior of the Fish and Game Department went to our powwow dressed as tourists and
filmed and photographed all the dancers at the pow wow. A couple of hours later, an agent
from the department came and invaded what we call a sacred gathering, our pow wow.
The circle is a special place we not only dance, but it is a place of prayer, a place
of ceremonies, a place of traditions and a place where we can just express ourselves
as Native People.
While at the pow wow, I went to a booth outside the gym in the hall
way and I noticed a man harassing my brother-in-law. As I got closer, he waved his badge
and told me he was an agent of the Department of Interior, Fish and Game.
Then he said to give him my two eagle feathers that I was wearing on my
porcupine roach. The feathers that my brother-in-law had were mine.
Before I knew it the federal agent tried to enter our circle in the gym.
I stood in front of him to block him from going in. What happened next was
the craziest excuse for violation of our circle that I had ever heard.
He said he had the right to enter into the circle because we had violated
three federal laws that ceased the sacredness of the circle giving the
United States Government the right to enter our circle and harass our dancers.
He stated the laws we violated in the form of three questions. He looked at
me and said, "Are you a member of a Federally recognized Tribe.
I said I was not so he said, "The law states that if you are not a
member of a Federally reconized tribe, this is a violation of Federal Law
and the circle ceases to be sacred." Then he said, "Did you advertise
the event in the newspaper?" as he waved a copy of the article we wrote
with a picture and an invitation for the public to attend the pow wow.
I said, "Yes." He then said, "Federal laws says that when a Native American
advertises his event in the newspaper, the event ceases to be sacred giving
us the right to come and do as we please." Then he said, "Was there the
exchange of money in the circle, like a raffle, fifty/fifty, cake walks,
vendor's selling their crafts and did you honor a veteran by putting a
dollar at his feet?" I said, "Yes." Then he said, "Federal law states
that if there is the exchange of money in the circle, the circle ceases
to be sacred thus giving us the right to come in and do as we please."
While he went to his truck to take away the beautiful traditional bustle
my brother-in-law had made, I went in and warned all the Native people
in the circle who had eagle feathers that the Feds would soon be in the
circle and I would not be able to hold them back. All I could think about
was Custer and the 7th Cavalry sneaking in and massacring our Native people all
over again. The enemy came and struck our pow wow when we least expected.
An event made to celebrate and enjoy turned to chaos as our children ran
with fear in their faces seeking their parents' protection from the Federal
Government who, through their unjust laws, had violated a place that had
always been sacred to our people, the Circle. What would happen tomorrow
if our churches or our civil organizations were closed because they advertised
their service in the newspaper or because they took up an offering?
I am writing this so that you can understand why I had to start this
journey almost eight years ago and why I decided that I would fight
this until the day I take my last breath.
Tribe's Press Release: LIPAN APACHE TRIBE'S BIG WIN IN EAGLE FEATHER CASE!
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled
in favor of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas in the case of Grace Brethren Church et al
vs. U.S. Attorney General (USDC No.07-CV-60) and U.S. Department of Interior.
On Wednesday August 20, the court found that the U.S. Department of Interior
does not have authority to prevent members of the Lipan Apache Tribe from
using eagle feathers in their religious ceremonies. The tribe had appealed a
district court ruling in October 2013 that upheld the Department of Interior’s
action to confiscate eagle feathers from tribal members at a tribal gathering
in March 2006. At the time, the tribe invoked the 1978 Native American Religious
Freedom Act (NARFA) to recover the eagle feathers and to prevent prosecution of its
tribal members. The Department of Interior, represented by the U.S. Attorney
General, argued that such protection was afforded only in certain circumstances
to tribes that the U.S. Government has acknowledged as tribes. The tribe argued
that they enjoyed the rights guaranteed to them by NARFA because they were a
tribe and because NARFA did not distinguish between state-recognized tribes
like the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas and federally recognized tribes.
The Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas is the descendent
tribe of confederated Eastern Apache bands that defended a homeland spanning from the
Southern Great Plains in the U.S. to the Bolson de Mapimi in northern Mexico.
Beginning in the early-1800’s, military pressure from the Spanish, Americans,
and the Comanches and their allies forced some of these bands to consolidate under
Chief Joseph Castro’s band of Lipans. In 2009, the Texas Senate and House of
Representatives formally recognized the tribe as the historic tribe of Lipans of
The ruling on Wednesday grants members of the
Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas the same rights enjoyed by all Native Americans under
“It’s been a long hard fought battle that we
just had to win,” said Tribal Council Vice-Chairman, Robert Soto, one of the tribal
members whose eagle feathers were confiscated by Department of Interior officials,
“Our backs were against the wall so we had to say the Lipans are still very much here
and will still defend their way of life.”