Caring for Eagle Feathers
Feathers acquired from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation come from living eagles cared for at the CPN Aviary. Most of the eagles are permanent residents who were injured and are unable to be released back into the wild. These eagles require long-term permanent housing or they face euthanasia. Offering these eagles a permanent home and caring for them allows us to collect naturally molted feathers each year during the early spring and summer months. Once collected, these feathers are cleaned, if necessary, and prepared for dispersal to tribal members. The feathers are taken care of in a respectful Neshnabé way and are prayed over and smudged before they are sent to the applicants.
Feathers acquired from the Fish and Wildlife Services' National Eagle Repository, or Federal Repository, have almost certainly been frozen and thawed. The eagle was likely killed in the wild and exposed to the elements for some time. In some instances you may receive a whole bird. The wings and tail are the portions used for ceremony. The balance of the bird is generally not used, and should always be disposed of in a respectful way through ceremony. You need to put tobacco down in a private place where a fire can be started. Pray for guidance from the Creator, Mamogosnan, in using these feathers. Smudge yourself and all who assist in the ceremony. Remember that the eagle is a creature of the Winged Nation in our tradition that delivers the message each dawn to Mamogosnan. That prayer smoke still rises from the lodges of the Neshnabé – shows Mamogosnan that there are still faithful on this Earth. Because of the existence of the faithful, Mamogosnan makes the sun rise and the Great Circle of Life goes on another day. After placing cedar on the ground around the fire pit, start a fire with flint and steel where the tobacco was placed, burn sage and fan the smoke all over the remains of the bird. Then place the remains on the fire with our four sacred medicines: cedar, sage, tobacco and sweet grass. Burn as much as possible; bury the ashes and bones that remain in the ground at a depth where other animals will not dig them up. Offer a prayer in each of the four directions, and then thank the spirit of the eagle you now carry.
Using Eagle Feathers
Single feathers can be personalized and decorated by sewing a piece of leather around the quill and beading a pattern with a peyote stitch. One can also fasten a strip of leather to the quill with each end of the end of the leather strip paralleled on each side of the feather quill end, loop down, wrap in red yarn all the way down the quill end onto the leather, and tie off. The loop can then be used to tie the feather onto a flag or regalia - or simply as a handle.
Single feathers may be combined to create a fan and have a beaded wooden handle. Loose feathers should be stored in a cedar box to keep them away from moths. Instruct any others who receive feathers from you that they should be kept clean, away from animals, especially dogs, and smudged regularly. They should be told the story of the Eagle delivering the message to Mamogosnan that there are still faithful on the Earth, exhibited through rising prayer smoke, and convincing the Creator that this land should not be destroyed by cold from the sun not rising. That is why we fan the smoke up with an eagle feather when we bless a place or pray with smoke - the eagle is delivering the message, and the Earth is saved another day.
If feathers are dropped or dishonored in any way, they should be prayed over and smoked off. Only people of sufficient age to assume the responsibilities of ownership should have eagle feathers. The old traditions say that a young woman from the time of ovulation through menstruation is carrying the ability to make life, and manifests a spirit gift from Mamogosnan that is stronger than her feathers. For this reason, it is said that the respectful behavior to her feathers is to refrain from using them during the time of that cycle. This is a personal matter best left to the discretion of the feather owner, but a new owner should be told of the matter. Men should never use their feathers when a new life is being created. Always keep dogs away from the eagle parts, ceremony, and feathers.
Constructing a Whole Wing Fan
Remove all flesh from the feather tips and dispose of it as you have disposed of the other remains of the bird. Any body down or small feathers from the wings not used in your fan should be disposed of in the same manner.
If you are making an eagle feather fan, use the portion from the outer joint up (less all but seven of the round ended feathers), stripping the flesh and skin from the outer joint back to the shoulder joint. The bone (about 4" that will be in the handle) should be cut and bored out to remove the marrow, and braced into a straight position with a wood splint to elongate the angle at which the handle will be relative to the fan. Place the entire splinted bone structure end of the fan into desiccant (Twenty Mule Team Borax works very well or commercial desiccant is available from a taxidermy supply company) and leave for seven days. The bone end should be free from any odor by then or it has not been well cleaned. It is advisable to put the entire fan under a layer of desiccant in a long box. Carve the handle from cedar, split into two halves with a place for the bone carved into each inner face of the two halves. Put the two halves together and bind with sinew or leather twine. Cover the wood with a sewn rawhide leather cover reversed onto the wood after sewing and allowed to shrink. Decorate to your satisfaction with beading. You can choose to hang a small Megis shell from the upper beading on the handle. You should store and care for a fan in the same manner as single or loose feathers.