GM 11-124

DOJ Asks Tribes for Comment on Eagle Feather Policy, Training Opportunities

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has invited tribal leaders to comment on two issues concerning individual Indian rights and tribal authority: (1) DOJ’s policy concerning possession of eagle feathers by tribal members; and (2) opportunities for federal/tribal training on the enforcement of wildlife and other environmental laws.

Federal law recognizes that eagles have a unique and important place in the cultural and religious lives of many American Indians. That is why, under certain circumstances, American Indians are permitted to possess eagle feathers and other eagle parts, even though possession of such materials by most other people is illegal under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The DOJ has long looked to the “Morton Policy,” a statement developed by the Department of Interior in the 1970s, for guidance on how to handle cases involving American Indians in possession of eagle feathers. However, DOJ has never developed a formal policy on the matter. By soliciting comments, DOJ hopes to determine whether tribes would welcome a formal policy and, if so, if there are aspects of the Morton Policy that should be clarified or defined.

Additionally, DOJ would like to hear from tribes regarding opportunities for law enforcement training programs. As part of the National Indian Country Training Initiative, DOJ would like to ensure that training programs meet the needs of tribal prosecutors, tribal law enforcement, and other tribal personnel. The DOJ also is interested in conducting combined federal/tribal training programs that would promote communication and cooperation between federal and tribal officials in matters of wildlife and environmental law enforcement.

The DOJ’s statement soliciting comments which includes a copy of the Morton Policy and a list of possible law enforcement training topics is attached. The deadline for submitting comments is Friday, December 2, 2011. Comments must be in writing and may be submitted by e-mail to or by U.S. Mail to U.S. Department of Justice; Office of Tribal Justice; 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW; Washington, DC 20530. Please let us know if we may assist in developing comments on these matters.