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United States v. Abeyta

ELR Citation: 16 ELR 20896
Nos. No. 85-79-JB, 632 F. Supp. 1301/(D.N.M., 04/09/1986)

The court holds that the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Protection Act) does not apply to the killing of a golden eagle by a Pueblo Indian for religious use, and the First Amendment bars prosecution under the Act of a Pueblo member for killing a golden eagle without a permit solely for religious purposes. The court first holds that the Eagle Protection Act does not apply to Pueblo Indians hunting golden eagles for religious purposes within the confines of the Pueblos' borders. The court holds that Congress did not abrogate the Indians' religious rights, guaranteed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, either when it originally passed the Act to protect bald eagles or later, when it extended protection to the golden eagle. Congress can abrogate Indian treaty rights only by express modification of the treaty; since the Eagle Protection Act did not explicitly contravene the treaty securing Pueblo Indians' religious rights, those rights remain intact. The court holds that even if defendant's religious rights were not protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the First Amendment would insulate his conduct from prosecution under the Eagle Protection Act. The government has not established a compelling interest in protecting the golden eagle, a nonendangered species. Moreover, the government could have chosen a regulatory means to protect the golden eagle less burdensome upon tribal religious beliefs. The administrative process through which Pueblo members may obtain eagle feathers for their religious rites from eagles killed by natural causes is unnecessarily cumbersome and lengthy, interferes with tribal religious privacy, and allows predatory golden eagles to be taken by non-Indians for nonreligious purposes.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Jennifer A. Salisbury, Ass't U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 607, Albuquerque NM 87103
(505) 766-3341

Counsel for Defendant
S. James Anaya
National Indian Youth Counsel
318 Elm St. SE, Albuquerque NM 87102
(505) 247-2251