Eagle Feathers and Integrity

Tatanka Iyotake or Sitting Bull, is pictured in his eagle feather headdress.
Tatanka Iyotake or Sitting Bull, is pictured in his eagle feather headdress.

Integrity is a term used to describe a person who is impeccably honest. The person who is genuinely honest is an individual who “walks their talk,” so to speak. Personal integrity requires you are honest with yourself first.

In order to be a positive role model for our children, an individual must have honesty and integrity. Again, this starts with the self. That is, if you are deceived by your own lies which you’ve convinced yourself to be true, how can you be honest with anyone else? In Lakota society, there is no room for the attitude of “do as I say, not as I do” if you are to be a positive role model.

Ego is the one thing which will get in your way of being completely honest with your own self. There is that saying about how the truth hurts. This concept also applies to the truths we admit to ourselves. Our own shortcomings are painful to face.

Ego also allows us to judge ourselves and other people, either positively or negatively. Our ego will convince us that someone else is doing something very wrong. We will judge them for whatever they are doing which we perceive as wrong. But what about the self? If you are doing the same thing which you judge another person for doing, why is it not wrong for you to do it? It’s very hypocritical to judge someone for the same thing you are doing as an individual.

I believe people who have been prosecuted for committing crimes have to do much, much more to prove their integrity. Still, their personal integrity is often beyond repair. Their character and reputation are forever tarnished. Society will never look at them the same again. So, some of us tend to judge our people who have been convicted of crimes in federal courts. After all, the crime has to be extremely serious if a person is indicted, tried and convicted in the federal system. And despite the claims of innocence or being set up for federal charges, people who accept a plea bargain are admitting they did something wrong.

Most people convicted in federal courts are sentenced to either a jail term or probation. Many times they will also have to pay a fine or restitution. This is how they make amends to society. Still, despite the fact that they have “paid” for their crimes by serving time in jail, being on probation or paying money, the trust of public is forever gone. The way they carry themselves when they return home from prison is forever scrutinized by the people who know them.

Murderers, rapists and molesters are often forever branded as such by their family and former friends. Many times people will not forget what they have done nor will they ever trust them again. Sex offenders must register with local law enforcement agencies so community members are aware of their record and where they live. Some felony convictions require these people to stay away from children. For example, people with a felony convictions usually cannot work in organizations which serve children, such as schools or daycare centers.

But what about those people who have been convicted or reached a plea agreement for selling eagle feathers? Some Lakota people believe a criminal conviction of this nature should be enough to ban the person caught from forever possessing eagle feathers.

Now that type of ban may seem extreme, it might also seem very judgmental. Still, it doesn’t look right at all when people convicted in the federal system of selling eagle feathers to subsequently wear them in public. But ego tends to prevail when a person refuses to admit to him or herself that what they are doing is wrong. There is also a certain amount of arrogance involved when a person does something like this.

For example, there are those of us who believe an individual cannot be considered a positive role model to our young people when they flaunt an eagle feather headdress after they’ve been convicted of selling eagle feathers. This conveys the message that it’s okay to sell federally protected eagle feathers because you can always wear your eagle feathers when you are finished serving your prison term.

If I had a felony conviction on my criminal record for selling eagle feathers I would be embarrassed to wear even one eagle feather in public. It would be hypocritical to represent myself as someone who respected eagle feathers when I had served a prison sentence for selling them. Now if I allowed my ego and arrogance to overcome my personal integrity, you would definitely see me wearing those eagle feathers like I had done no wrong against the Wanbli Gleska Oyate.

I am aware that many of us do not agree with the United States Attorney having jurisdiction over the major crimes committed in Indian Country. Yet, until the laws are changed, this jurisdiction is something all of us who reside on the Rez must live with.

Also, some will claim it isn’t my place to speak about eagle feathers because I am a woman. Others will accuse me of being judgmental and lacking forgiveness. Still, it was a woman who brought the sacred gift of the Cannunpa to our people. As the caretakers of our children and grandchildren, Lakota women have both the right and responsibility to speak out against behavior we perceive as wrong.

I doubt that any of us want our grandsons to grow up to be arrogant criminals who lack personal integrity. I want my grandson to be able to have a positive role model to look at to see how men should behave properly.

Published by Vi Waln


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