Babbitt may let Indians hunt in national parks

Washington, D.C. A pending special rule drafted by the Interior
Department may open the door to fish and wildlife harvest in
national parks by Indian tribes, charges the environmental watchdog
group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

PEER released a draft of a proposed rule that is expected to be
published in the Federal Register within a month. The draft
proposal would allow the Hopi Indian Tribe to collect golden eagles
from Wupatki National Monument in Arizona. PEER claims the legal
rationale for the rule, written specifically for the Hopis, could
justify opening any unit of the National Park System to hunting by
Native Americans.

“Interior contends the proposed rule will apply just to
Wupatki,” says PEER board member and former National Park Service
manager Frank Buono. “But the justification is so broad that it can
be used to open other parks to Native American harvest one at a
time.”

The draft proposal results from a request the Hopis made to the
National Park Service to allow them to collect golden eagles from
Wupatki National Monument for use in religious ceremony. In a
practice central to Hopi religious beliefs, eaglets are captured,
raised to fledglings, then sacrificed and “sent” to their spiritual
home.

The importance of eagles to Hopi culture is evident in the 1936
Hopi Constitution, which reserves the tribe’s general right to hunt
eagles. However, Wupatki became a national monument in 1924. The
presidential proclamation says the monument is established to
protect prehistoric Indian ruins, and does not mention eagle
hunting.

The Hopi’s request was denied at all administrative levels by
the National Park Service, which said wildlife, fish, and plants
were protected the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act.
Consumptive activities within the National Park System are largely
limited to recreational fishing and the collection of fruits, nuts,
and berries. Hunting and trapping are forbidden in national parks.
Past attempts by tribes to assert hunting rights have been
denied.

PEER charges that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is poised to
override the Park Service and grant the Hopi’s request. Rationale
for Babbitt’s decision, according to the draft released by PEER, is
based in large part upon interpretations of the American Indian
Religious Freedom Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Buono says religious freedom shouldn’t be justification to break a
law.

“The American Indian Religious Freedom Act says that Indians
have the same religious rights as everyone else,” Buono says. “You
can’t disobey laws based upon religion. Society would break into
chaos if we did that.”

How close the proposal Interior eventually publishes in the
Federal Register resembles the draft released by PEER is a matter
of speculation. Interior spokesman John Wright said the proposal
may or may not mirror the draft leaked to the press. He did not
provide any details about the proposal.

“We are working on a policy that may be published in the Federal
Register in another two weeks,” Wright said.

If Babbitt overrides the Park Service decision and grants
permission to hunt Wupatki eagles to the Hopi, PEER charges that
other tribes will be able to use the same rationale to gain hunting
rights on other lands administered by the National Park Service. A
survey of national park managers indicated that tribes
unsuccessfully have sought hunting rights for various species in
other national parks.

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