Feathers for Native Americans seeks to “Save wild macaws and parrots by gifting moulted feathers to Pueblo-dwelling Native Americans for use in their rich Culture and Traditions, one feather at a a time.” There is genius and synergy in this practice: Feathers for Native Americans acts as a precious cog, helping parrot conservation, and Native worship cyclically recur while steering clear of possible profiteering by illegal traffickers in endangered birds, for the traffickers may sell feathers on the open feather market after illegally trafficked birds die in transit.

Feathers for Native Americans explains its feather distribution mission, as follows:

By gifting molted Macaw, Parrot and other exotic bird feathers we can eliminate sellers of illegally imported feathers who are hunting and killing Wild Macaws and Parrots for profit. Every feather donated from a moulted living bird will replace one from a Wild Macaw or Parrot that was killed to supply the need. “

Pueblo peoples, among them the Hopi and Zuni tribes, live, move, and have their being in a stressed ecosystem where they no longer freely hunt abundant birds. These Native people largely occupy a disadvantaged socio-economic rung in which their culture and language — like the birds whose feathers they require for proper religious observance — run the risk of extinction.

Colorful macaw and parrot feathers have been integral to Southwest American Puebloan tribes from their earliest history. Hopi, the only Puebloan tribe in Arizona, or in long form, Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, means “The Peaceful People” or “Peaceful Little Ones”. “Peaceful Person” signifies a “behaving one, one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite, who adheres to the Hopi Way.”

In Hopi culture ethics, morality and spirituality integrate the individual inseparably into the woof and warp of community and nature. To be Hopi is to cultivate a state of total reverence and respect for all things, to be at peace with these things, and to live in accordance with the instructions of Maasaw, the Creator/Caretaker of Earth. Hopi ceremonies, like the Kachina dances, are performed not just for the tribes’ well-being, but for the world’s. Kachina, the tribes’ spirit “familiars”, intercede for them both on earth and in the spirit world, sometimes mischievously but most often for good. The dances invoke and reify these spirits, on behalf of all Creation.

The profane reality is that illegal traffickers in endangered parrots can further prey upon them: Traffickers may sell on the open market feathers from endangered, trafficked birds after they die in transit. However, the mere exchange of cash for religious article in these Native Americans cultural view can diminish its holiness. That a trafficker profits adds insult to injury.

Steve, a Virginia resident, first learned about the value of feathers to pueblo peoples nearly 30 years ago while touring pueblos at his Arizona-based sister-in-law’s suggestion. At one pueblo, Steve conversed with a Hopi man about his handful of feathers. The man indicated the macaw tail feathers were worth approximately $12-15,000 (1991). Currently, feathers on the open market cost between $50-75 each.

Returning home, Steve enlisted the pet shop directly behind his workplace, Pet Paradise of Virginia Beach. The shop still collects and contributes moulted feathers. With his first in-person delivery of cleaned, sorted feathers, Steve earned trust and respect, as if macaw tail feathers were “the keys to the pueblo”.

Demand for feathers is relatively constant: Approximately 70 percent of donated feathers go to making Kachina dance costumes while kiva ceremonies consume the bulk of the remaining 30 percent. These ceremonies call for a variety of feathers — even turkey, duck or goose. Feathers, if well-cared for, can last eight years. Many feathers are “single-use” as a matter of sacred tradition, so the demand for feathers remains relatively constant over time.

Perhaps 30 percent of feathers required for ritual use come from endangered species, especially species native to Latin America. In the open market, say, on E-Bay, a feather may likely come from a dead (poached) bird, not a moult.

Although Steven James’ Feathers for Native Americans 501(c)(3) nonprofit wasn’t the first to collect and donate feathers (a Dr. Raymond, affiliated with the Illinois State Museum, preceded him), the organization now must face the challenge of satisfying total demand alone as Dr. Reymon retired several years ago.

Feathers for Native Americans has developed a five-year plan which emphasizes gaining pet stores and large-scale breeders as regular contributors, and establishing distribution ops in the pueblos themselves, to match demand more efficiently.Feathers for Native Americans gladly accepts feather contributions from zoos, breeders and owners across the country. Contributors receive a personalized card indicating what pueblo, and to what type of use the feather will be put.

Donating moulted macaw and parrot feathers to Native Americans for ceremonial use resonates both with traditional culture and contemporary conservation, an exemplum of the Hopi Way, linking donor and recipient in a sacred task.

Collection Center Mailing Address:
3415 Butterfly Arch
Virginia Beach, VA 23456-2537
United States

757-434-7557
email: hjames7@cox.net

Website: https://www.feathersfornativeamericans.com
FB page: “Feathers for Native Americans

Hopi children and adults sent Holiday greetings to their feather donors.
Hopi children and adults sent Holiday greetings to their feather donors. (Courtesy of Steven James)

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