CYRIL, Okla. – The Comanche Nation Ethno Ornithological Initiative is the nesting place for more than 70 eagles and other birds of cultural importance to Native Americans. But like many Native programs today, it’s looking for more operating funds.
The Sia Essential Species Repository is searching for funds to keep alive its mission of Comanche “preservation through cultural understanding of the eagle in history, science and spirit.”
“All of it is focused on the avian side of our history, the bird cultures,” Sia Founder and Director William Voelker said. “Although eagles are of primary importance, we address our relationship historically with all avian species.”
Sia, the Comanche word for feather, took flight in 1999 when the CNEOI was incorporated under the Comanche Nation as a tribal program.
Although Sia does not rehabilitate birds, it accepts birds that have been rehabilitated and provides a home for them if they can’t be released into the wild.
“We have eagles here from five continents. We feel a strong responsibility to assist with endangered eagles worldwide,” Voelker said.
It is also a tribal breeding authority for native eagles. Voelker said he fought hard for the tribal breeding authority, and this past spring, Sia produced the first golden eagles under tribal authority.
“For the very first time in the history of all Native America, Native American eagles were produced here by Comanche hands for the first time. That’s a major milestone. We’ve opened up the doors for other tribes to do the same thing,” Voelker said,
On June 21, Sia’s wingspan stretched further when its feather repository was established. Through Sia, federally recognized tribal citizens can legally obtain non-eagle feathers.
As the first Native American repository in the nation, Sia can accept non-eagle feathers, carcasses and birds from federally permitted falconers, zoos, educational centers and rehabilitation facilities throughout the country. Once feathers are received they are cataloged, sorted and cleaned. Members of any federally recognized tribe can apply for these feathers if needed for traditional ceremonial use.
“Our repository is designed for non-eagle feathers,” Voelker said. “We have the ability to provide eagle feathers, from eagles we keep here. Any bald and golden eagles we have…we can distribute those feathers. Those are the only eagle feathers we can distribute.”
To date, Sia has helped 44 tribes obtain feathers.
Native Americans can also apply for bald and golden eagle feathers through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Eagle Repository in Colorado.
Comanche Nation Chairman Michael Burgess said he has been approached by people from other tribes who are thankful for feathers they received from the Sia program. He said he plans to help with a March fundraiser to help get Sia some operating funds.
Although Sia is listed as a Comanche Nation program, it has only received one year of funding from the tribe in its 11-year existence. In 2005, the Comanche people voted to provide two years of funding. However, the Comanche Business Committee during that time cut funding after one year. The cut affected dollar-for-dollar matching funds, Voelker said.
Sia members have not requested funding from the Comanche Nation since. But during a recent Comanche general council meeting, Sia members asked for the people to reaffirm the program’s existence as a needed program.
“The people have spoken and want our program. It was a vote asking for the simple affirmation. My belief was that once we had the vote of the people in a positive way then go back to the tribe and ask for funding. We’re doing some incredible work. If the tribe can help just with basics at least we don’t have to worry, like right now, about keeping the lights on,” Voelker said.
The Nation did purchase the land Sia is nestled on, Burgess said, adding that the program is “worthwhile.”
“My personal opinion is that the tribe should give them a modest amount of money to match other donations,” he said.
Voelker said most of Sia’s funding comes from outside Oklahoma and that many people assume it receives gaming funds because the Comanche Nation owns casinos.
Voelker said he and Co-Founder Troy have never accepted salary funds and that eight people help operate Sia. Two interns from the Potawatomi Nation were also instructed for two years to gain expertise so they could open an aviary for their tribe in Shawnee, Voelker said.
“We’re doing it for all tribes,” he said. “Perhaps other tribal partners out there will step to the plate and assist. We’ve got the first part. We just need help to take it further.”
For more information or to donate to the program, visit www.comancheeagle.org or call (580) 464-2750.