National Eagle Repository: Blessing Ceremony to Respectfully Send Eagle Remains Off on Their Next Journey

Published December 14, 2019

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge – nested between two trees on a section of restored prairie and blessed by Tribes that have a historical, ancestral connection to this particular area – is a new final resting place for eagle remains from the National Eagle Repository.

On Friday, November 1, 2019, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) staff and Tribal representatives from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Oglala Lakota, and Southern Ute participated in a blessing ceremony of the new eagle burial site on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. This ceremony is the first of its kind and another step towards creating stronger and more meaningful relationships with Tribes. The Service values and has a strong commitment to the cultural and traditional practices of the indigenous people of this land. Because of this, the voices of the Tribes were heard at the 2017 Eagle Tribal Consultation.

In 2017, the Service extended an invitation and welcomed federally recognized Tribes to schedule a visit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Eagle Repository. During one facility visit, a Tribal member provided helpful feedback on the current method of disposing eagle parts and feathers that cannot be used by the program. Originally, eagle bones and ash that remained after cremation went through the mainstream waste collection.

The Tribe requested the Service to alter this part of the program protocol and provided a more respectful and culturally appropriate alternative to dispose of the eagle remains for whom they refer to as brother eagle. Service Staff members from the Mountain-Prairie Regional Office, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, and National Eagle Repository collaborated with the attending Tribes in preparation for their different traditional methods and needs as well as identify a burial site on the refuge where this ceremony could take place.

Tribal representatives and Service staff Top Left: Garth Spellman (Denver Museum of Nature and Science); Steve Oberholtzer (USFWS); Cora White Horse (Oglala Lakota); President Julian Bear Runner (Oglala Lakota); Gilbert Miles (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Lt. Governor); Reggie Wassana (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Governor); Chris Yellow Eagle (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Special Project Director); name; Ricky Gray Grass (Oglala Lakota, Spiritual Leader); Matt Hogan (USFWS); Doni Sprague (USFWS); Bryan Sanchez-Rodriguez; Hanley E. Frost Sr (Southern Ute Tribe, Cultural Coordinator); Adam Shepard (USFWS)
Bottom left: William Plentyarrows (Oglala Lakota); Wakinyon Little Moon (Oglala Lakota); Lewis Tall Bull Jr. (Southern Cheyenne, Oglala Lakota); Scott Aikin (USFWS); Melissa Castiano (USFWS); Anna Munoz (USFWS); James Hollman(USFWS); Sarah Metzer (USFWS); Elisa Dahlberg (USFWS); Hanley E. Frost’s grandson (Southern Ute,name); Laura Mallory (USFWS).

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.

It was here that the Oglala Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho, and Southern Ute Representatives blessed the site and returned the eagle remains back to the earth with Service staff who were very much honored to witness this powerful event. The prayer songs that were sung brought what can only be described as a spiritual, emotional, and magical moment for all present. The songs attracted a pair of bald eagles to fly over and encircle the site. The group marveled as the pair briefly participated themselves before leaving as swiftly as they came. At the end of the ceremony, a total of 5 bald eagles were seen flying in the near distance, circling higher and higher, delivering the blessings up to the Holy People and the Creator to hear.

 

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