Wooíiye - "Eagle Catcher"
people refer to the eagle as "the king of birds"
because of his size and strength. The Dakota/Nakota/Lakota
people also have a great respect for him. However, our
respect for the eagle, goes far beyond that. The eagle
is a messenger for the Great Spirit, and patron of Councils,
hunters, war parties and battles. It is said, that when
the eagle dies, his spirit remains with his feathers.
Through wearing eagle feathers, our people have gained
strength and demonstrated appreciation and respect, not
only for the eagle, but for all of creation. The type
of feather, how it is cut, colour and position it is worn
in, adds additional meaning, which is a language in itself.
centuries before the Indian people had guns, they hunted
with bows and arrows but the eagle was one that had to
be caught, as no hunter could get close enough to take
it with an arrow. It was also a dangerous and difficult
task, and an eagle would only be caught for ceremonial
purposes. It is said, should anyone attempt to catch an
eagle for any other reasons, sickness will come to them
and their families.
of the spiritual qualities of the eagle, a great deal
of spiritual protocol is exercised in the catching of
an eagle. The construction of a tipi, sweat lodge, and
catching pit are the three main contributing factors.
Three men are required to set up the site and several
days are used in preparation. They will set up the tipi
with the door facing in the appropriate direction, and
the floor will be covered with sage, leaving a space for
a ceremonial offering mound, a fire pit, and a pipe stand.
The men will remain and sleep here, keeping the fire going
at all times. All this will be done with the proper protocol,
using traditions that have been passed on for centuries
lodge is constructed and the men purify themselves. Heated
rocks are placed in the lodge and water is splashed upon
them. The lodge is similar to the non-Indian sauna, only
to the Indian people, it is a sacred place. The purpose
of the lodge, is so the men may purify themselves in body,
mind, heart and soul.
wooíiye' (eagle catcher) then goes to a secluded
place near the eagle's nest to pray and fast, while his
companions prepare a catching pit large enough, to hold
the `wañbli wooíiye' (eagle catcher) in
a sitting position.
is taken away from the pit area and the men are careful
not to trample the grass or make footprints. When completed,
the top is then concealed with shrubs and grass. All this
is done, so the eagle will not see a change in it's surrounding.
The bait is then set using a small animal or meat and
a great deal of care is taken so it will not be smelt
by other large animals. If a coyote, mountain lion, wolf
or bobcat came after the meat, it would be an added danger
to the wañbli wooíiye.
the 'wañbli wooíiye' is in the pit, the
men will return to the tipi and wait. The 'wañbli
wooíiye' becomes very quiet and prepares to face
whatever comes. It is a tremendous trial and a tiring
place for him to be in. He may have to remain there for
hours or even days without food or water, awaiting the
arrival of an eagle.
some time has passed, an eagle will spot the meat, and
begin circling the area, until it feels it is safe. Cautiously
it lands and inspects the bait before it attempts to fly
off with it. Since the bait is securely tied down, the
eagle will not be able to fly away with it. Still, the
eagle will keep on trying. Soon the eagle's feet will
come close enough to the `wañbli wooíiye's
hand and he will make his move. Quickly, he will reach
up and grab the eagle's leg. It is said, whether out of
curiosity or fear, as long as there is no sudden movement,
the eagle will not struggle. The 'wañbli wooíiye'
then slowly slides his hand up above the feather line.
Grasping a firm hold, he then quickly and cautiously draws
the eagle down into the pit. The `wanbli wooíiye'
then uses his free hand to break the eagle's neck.
wooíiye' then takes the eagle back to the tipi,
and places it on the offering mound. The men begin to
give thanks to the spirit of wañbli the eagle when
the 'wañbli wooíiye' takes up the pipe and
begins his prayers. After the pipe is smoked, the 'wanbli
wooíiye' will then paint the eagle in the appropriate
manner, and place a piece of meat in the eagle's mouth.
This is done, to acknowledge the eagle's life, that the
Waíañ Tañka or Great Spirit has provided,
and to give thanks for all the other blessings, that have
also been provided to the people! The wings, tail and
claws are cut free and all the additional feathers that
are required are plucked free. The eagle is then taken
back to where it was caught. It is placed on a tanned
white hide, which is laid out on a bed of sage, with it's
head pointing in the appropriate direction. An offering
of tobacco will also be placed with it.
then return to the sweat lodge, to conclude the ceremony
and on completion of the sweat, the ceremony is over.
The fire in the tipi is extinguished and all the gear
is packed and made ready for the return trip home. The
frame of the sweat lodge will be left intact, and the
eagle’s remains left to for Waíañ
Tañka or the Great Spirit. In this way, the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota
show respect for to the spirit of wañbli the eagle.
present day society, we see eagles that are mounted and
stuffed. The eagle, buffalo and all other life forms have
given life to us. As children of Uñ©I Maía
or Grandmother Earth, we would not survive without them.
Because of this, they are worthier then we are, as they
provide life for us, we do not provide life for them.
How can humanity stuff and mount its' givers of life?
Among Indian people, there are those who no longer have
the knowledge of the old ways, and do not show the eagle
the respect it deserves. As a result of the disrespect
shown by non-Indians and some Indian people, the eagle's
survival is threatened and the "King of Birds"
is now an endangered species in North America. The great
eagle must be rightfully respected for it's purpose in
the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota ceremonies. If extinction ever
befell the eagle, it would be a great loss to the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota
people and all of humanity.