CHEYENNE -- A Northern Arapaho man pleaded guilty Tuesday in tribal court to killing a bald eagle in 2005 for use in his tribe's Sun Dance.
Winslow Friday, who is in his mid-20s, entered the plea on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming. He was fined $2,500 and had his hunting privileges suspended on the reservation for a year, said Kathy Dresser, a public defender for the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court who represented him.
Calls to Friday through tribal offices and his family were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Friday has acknowledged that he shot the eagle without a permit. But the question of whether he should be prosecuted has prompted a protracted legal fight and attracted national attention in American Indian religious circles.
In a 2006 interview with The Associated Press, he said he had no regrets about killing the bird, which plays a central role in his tribe's annual Sun Dance.
"I'm going to say no, because of what I did with the bird," Friday had said. "I participated in our Sun Dance. No, because that made me feel good in my heart."
U.S. District Judge William Downes in late 2006 dismissed the federal government's case against Friday, ruling that the government's case showed "callous indifference" to American Indian religious practices.
Downes said it would have been pointless for Friday to apply for a permit because he wouldn't have received one anyway.
Downes wrote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn't advise American Indians that they could apply for permits to kill eagles. He wrote that the agency preferred instead to let them wait for years to receive eagle carcasses from a federal repository that kept birds that died from hitting power lines or other causes.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver later reversed Downes' ruling but didn't dispute his factual findings about the federal eagle program.
The U.S. Justice Department's case against Friday wound up back in federal court in Wyoming after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the appeals court's decision.
Friday had faced up to a year in jail and a possible $100,000 fine in federal court before the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne agreed this year to transfer his case to the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court.
Jim Barrett, assistant federal public defender in Cheyenne, worked out the agreement with federal prosecutors to transfer Friday's case to tribal court.
"It's more appropriately taken care of in tribal court since it's a Native American issue, and I think that's the proper court for it," Barrett said Tuesday. He said dismissing the federal charges against Friday remains a formality now that his case is finished in tribal court.
Attempts to reach officials at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne and wildlife service spokesmen in Wyoming and Denver were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Steve Moore, lawyer with the Native American Rights Fund, in Boulder, Colo., said Tuesday that moving Friday's case to tribal court was the correct result.
"In this modern era of tribal sovereignty, more and more authority for regulating these kinds of activities needs to be turned away from the United States and to tribes," Moore said.
Dresser, Friday's public defender in tribal court, said she believes his sentence reflects recognition that he used the eagle in the Sun Dance.
"I just think that because he was doing it for the Sun Dance, that they should be able to do that," Dresser said. "Because I know there's nowhere else to get eagles. They can't get them anywhere else."