CHEYENNE, Wyo. » A member of the Northern Arapaho tribe who killed a bald eagle for use in a Native American ceremony could face up to a year in jail after the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear his appeal.
The court's ruling Monday is the latest turn in a long-running legal dispute over the rights of American Indians to kill eagles for religious purposes.
Winslow Friday has acknowledged that he shot and killed a bald eagle without a permit on the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming for use in his tribe's 2005 Sun Dance.
The high court ruling means that Friday will face a misdemeanor charge in federal court in Wyoming. He could face up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine if convicted.
John Carlson, a federal public defender in Denver, represented Friday in the Supreme Court appeal. He said that both he and Friday are disappointed by the court's decision.
"A single bald eagle is taken for the Northern Arapaho Sun Dance, which has been held since time immemorial, and it results in criminal sanctions," Carlson said. "But bald eagles get electrocuted on electric utility lines in Wyoming and elsewhere, and little or nothing happens."
The bald eagle was removed from the list of threatened species in 2007, following its reclassification in 1995 from endangered to threatened. However, the species remains protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
U.S. District Judge William F. Downes in 2006 threw out the charge against Friday. The judge ruled it would have been pointless for Friday to apply for a permit to kill the eagle because of the federal government's "callous indifference" to the religious concerns of American Indians.
The federal government appealed Downes's ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. A three-judge panel of that court reinstated the charge against Friday last year.
The U.S. Solicitor General's Office argued against Friday's request to have the Supreme Court review his case. Attempts to reach lawyers and others there for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.
Carlson said he had warned Friday that the Supreme Court wouldn't take his case, but said that didn't make the decision any less disappointing.
"If it's a legal and political issue for me, but for him, it's personal," Carlson said. "He now faces a trial."