Soaring Eagle Sentinel

Feathers, Fans, Bustles Our Winged Relations Gifts
By Roy Cook

There are Indian people everywhere. From time before time, humans have sought insight from higher powers. Bands, Tribes and Nations each have there own stories of our: winged, four legged and other relations. In many of the stories, the birds are messengers to the two-legged peoples.

From daily observations, we have seen the winged travel in realms we can only marvel and aspire to understand. We respect the grace and ability of the winged to soar beyond the clouds.

Many different birds are held in high regard by the many different tribal peoples. There is a Hisatsinom story that relates the Eagle being asked what can it bring to the people? What ceremony or power will assist the people? The Eagle said, “Our guardian spirit commands all the upper air. He is the master of insight. His is the watchful eye that will lookout for people that would try to overpower and take away our knowledge. His are the feathers that carry our thoughts and prayers to our Father.” Some tribal groups have restrictions on a specific bird while at the same time that same bird may be held in high regard by another tribal group of people. These specific questions are best left to your elders and tribal culture bearers.

One of the good reasons to ask a Tribal Elder from where you originally come from is because that the community nature of place is embedded in the language. Often this sense of place is still evident in translation. For example, in many tribal people stories of emergence and migration, the places a people stopped and when important events happened are mentioned. These stories tell us how to behave harmoniously toward one another. They tell of how to respect everything since all things in this world are a gift of the Creator. The also tell of how to purify and conduct ceremony. Very often, in these stories, the character of trickster tells how, by humorous example, not to behave.

Human relationship is the cornerstone of tribal community. The nature and expression of community is the foundation of tribal identity. Family, friends and tribal sources are the best validation of Tribal Identity. Government and church records are spotty at best. Tribal community is the context in which the person comes to know relationships, responsibility and participation in the life of ones people. Coming to know refers to the process of education and the ultimate goal of the real people: wisdom.

Specifically, Pow wow and ceremony require the winged feathers of tail, wing, downy and other body parts. They are eagerly sought after to complete the regalia outfits of the Female and Male dancer. In the Plains, and Southwest region, specific feathers may have conditional requirements to be met before one may associate or display them as part of a dancers’ regalia. Again, refer to your Tribal elder for the best guidance and information.

A single feather cannot fly but feathers, as people, together in harmony and balance can carry the winged into the air with grace and stability that is provided by the wings and tail. In a like manner, feathers, artistically presented, will convey the very qualities we admire in our winged relations.

Red tailed or barred hawk feathers and eagle are often used in flat fan construction. Also used are parrot and macaw feathers and in the Southeastern regions Turkey feathers and the Anhinga, water turkey is sought out for wing and flat fans. All feathers are good in the proper tribal context.

When all the dancers parade into the arena close friends have mentioned a very emotive, impressive and transformative experience. Very much as when they have been in the mist of Hawks and Eagles. Try to visualize bustles shaking and moving as when the birds flare their feathers for landing. During the Pow wow Grand entry looking upon the traditional dancers, imagine a flight of eagles so close you can touch them if you reach out your hand. It might bring a lump to your throat if you think about it in a respectful way. Female and male dancers seem to move with added grace when they have a fan in their hand. This may be by association or extension of the innate awe, we hold for those who have the sky for their domain.

Suppose you are gifted, some feathers and you decide to add to your dance regalia. Look around you and see what other dancers have made or are dancing. Then, set aside a good block of time to put on some Indian song and lay out the feathers. Hold each one and look carefully for the qualities that each has. Start to make groups of spikes or tail feathers in sequences of three or five or seven or more feathers. As you come to know the feathers, you will see what they may become in your minds eye. If you think you need more feathers see to adding to what you have. If you have some left over after you decide what you are artistically going to make, think about keeping the flow of generosity going. Give away what feathers that some one else might be able to use, give away some of the good ones too. Feathers have a way of coming back to a happy heart.

This is another very good time to ask a dancer or tribal elder for advice on what you plan to do. Approach the elder in a respectful manner, gifts of tobacco or cedar or sage will be appreciated. This courtesy will show the elder your respect for your tribal ways. All will be good in what you attempt if you work in balance and harmony and with respect for all the peoples.

Everyone is welcome to dance, enjoy and participate in the Soaring Eagles.