2018 marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which is considered the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed in the United States. To honor this milestone, the National Park Service is partnering with other organizations to celebrate the “Year of the Bird.” As birds face many new and serious threats, this collaboration aims to celebrate, inspire, educate, and heighten public awareness of the importance of birds and what we can do to help them.
This pair of beaded gauntlets features a golden eagle, one of the most prized birds among the Nez Perce. Golden eagles are one of the largest raptors in North America and can reach speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. Their strength and courage was admired by many Native American tribes; they ascribed mystical powers to the bird and its feathers. The tail feathers of a golden eagle are especially valued given their wide, white base and flat black tips.
Eagle feathers are highly revered and considered sacred within Native cultures. The feathers are honored with great care and shown the deepest respect. Traditionally only Nez Perce men wore eagle feathers when they earned this honor. They could be worn in headdresses, worn in their hair, and also used for other means of ornamentation. Since the early 20th century, Nez Perce females are also allowed to wear eagle feathers when relatives determine they are ready.
This beaded bag features floral bead work, a common design of the Nez Perce, and also what is presumably a bald eagle. Due to the importance of eagles among Native cultures, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was enacted in 1940. This federal statute prohibits the possession, use, and sale of eagle feathers. Only enrolled members of federally recognized tribes are authorized to obtain a permit from the Secretary of the Interior that allows them to receive and possess eagle feathers.
Patriotic symbols featuring the American flag and the country’s national emblem, the bald eagle, are seen in Nez Perce beadwork and were commonly used around the time of the World Wars. Such motifs represent the respect the Nez Perce have for this land and honor those who have fought and served in the armed forces.
The introduction of domesticated birds from Western cultures, such as turkeys and chickens, provided easily accessible bird feathers that soon became incorporated into outfits and other items of decoration. Such feathers are worn by men and women, but it is also common to see children wearing feathers. Until children are of age where they are allowed to wear the feathers of more respected birds, such as eagles and hawks, they only wear feathers from domesticated birds.