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Iowa Nation

By Bailey Walker

No matter where in the state a call comes in from, rescue vehicles “Eagle 1” and “Eagle 2” will rush out to save a life.  Because to the Iowa Nation, eagle lives are precious.

Abraham Lincoln has been working with the Grey Snow Eagle House since 2007 and is communication relations manager and co-director of the aviary. Lincoln wears many hats around the facility, including being on the aviary’s rescue team and riding in one of its two rescue vehicles. The aviary has welcomed dozens of international visitors and is renowned for rescuing eagles in Oklahoma, fostering transfers from across the country and being a rare resource for eagle feathers.

 “The Native American community has strong traditional ties with the eagle and its feathers,” Lincoln said. “Our traditional regalia for dances is fastened with eagle feathers and parts. Different tribal ceremonies use different types of feathers or parts and each ceremony has significant meaning to us.” 

Religious practices of many tribes involve eagle feathers, and this has had some friction with federal law. Wildlife conservation acts from 1900 to 1962 made possession of eagles or any part of them illegal outside of federal hands.

In 1999 the Zuni tribe of New Mexico built an aviary of its own in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Iowa Nation followed suit and today the Grey Snow Eagle House is a renowned aviary and has rescued and rehabilitated dozens of eagles, releasing 32 of these birds since 2006. This system allows the tribe to house and rehabilitate eagles while collecting their molted feathers for cultural preservation, while also saving non-releasable eagles from euthanization.

The aviary in Perkins offers free tours on selected days, and donations are appreciated. Tour information is available on the aviary’s social media pages.

The state of Iowa derives its name from its previous inhabitants, who spanned from the southern part of the state to northern Missouri. The Iowa Nation of Oklahoma, or Bahkoj, meaning “People of the Grey Snow” in its Chiwere language, is one of two federally recognized Iowa tribes. Oklahoma’s Iowa Nation is headquartered in Perkins and operates several casinos and other businesses.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 expanded the borders of the United States into Iowa land and in 1821, as Missouri was admitted to the Union, the federal government offered to buy land rights from the Iowa and other tribes. Over the next 20 years the Iowa lost additional  territory in Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa and were living mostly in Kansas and Nebraska. There the tribe stayed until 1883 when some members moved to then-Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The state is now home to about 500 of the tribe’s 800 enrolled members.

The Iowa people are committed to preserving their culture and Chiwere language. The tribe also continues to practice its traditional house-building and gardening, using only pre-modern tools and weekly cleansing ceremonies in sweat lodges, and holds annual pow wows every third week in June.

Bailey Walker is senior editor of 15th Street News at Rose State College.