From Robert Soto, Lipan Apache
I want to thank you for all the prayers and all the support you haveÂ sent, and for all your e-mails; they have brought such encouragement to our hearts. I also want to thank you for all your advice and research results you have sent us.
Today we, my brother-in-law and I, met with our lawyer and he explained in detail to us all that he had found. In reality, it sounded more technical than my mind could handle. I have learned a lot during my journey down this path that God the Creator has allowed me to go through. So I will tell you what we have to do, and what I have learned through this experience.
WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO?
Our lawyer tried everything to help us keep our feathers but at the end, he could find no route to accomplish that. He carefully studied all the court cases that I sent to him that were sent to me by a lot of you, and also found several himself. While the cases I was sent seemed to work to our favor, he also found many others that did not. His concern, which is a valid concern, was that if we fought the federal government in this issue it would backfire on us with a big possibility of losing, resulting in an even greater battle for my freedom in the future, which he stated would affect a lot of areas of my life. So we decided to accept the federal agent's proposal. This does not mean they have won the war, just one little battle. We will continue to fight, but I will explain that later. Unless the federal agent changes his mind, we are looking at the following penalties: first of all, I will receive a verbal warning and not be charged any fines, but will have to give him my two roach feathers. For my brother-in-law, he will receive a reduced fine of $500 and all the feathers I loaned him will be taken away. The original fine was $5,000. So after much prayer, by both of us and our lawyer, we decided that this could not be fought in the court system and that the whole situation was a no-win effort in our area. By the way, the two roach feathers that I have to turn in will not be turned in to the federal agent in his office. I told the lawyer that I would turn in my feathers in a neutral place like the lawyer's office, and that as we turned in our feathers, we would have a mourning ceremony and sing a mourning song for our great loss. I will be taking four elders to our ceremony to witness the surrendering of our feathers to the United States Government.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?
What have I learned from this situation? First of all, I have learned that if you are not a federal-recognized Indian, according to federal law, you are not an Indian. Because the United States government defines a Native American as a person belonging to a federally recognized tribe. Secondly, if you do not belong to a federally recognized tribe, you do not have the same religious and ceremonial rights as those who are federally recognized. Thirdly, since we do not have the same rights as those who are federally recognized, we cannot even call ourselves Native Americans according to federal law. Fourthly, this means that anything we produce that is Native in character cannot be called Native American art or crafts. Fifthly, I have learned that the only legal feather is a feather issued to you by the depository set aside by the federal government. That means that even if you are carrying a BIA card, you are not entitled to carry those feathers unless you have a permit from the federal government. That also means that if you are gifted a feather and you do not belong to a federally recognized tribe, that gift is against the law. Sixthly, if you are gifted a feather, when you receive that feather you have to report to the feather depository with all the information they ask for - like who gave you the feather, his permit number, etc, and register it with the federal government and wait for a special permit that states that this feather has been given to you by someone who legally received the feather through the United States government. This means that if any of your Indian friends who have the proper credentials give you a feather and you do not have a BIA card or your tribe is not federally recognized, that feather is illegal and cannot be used under federal law. I could bore you with more logistics, but these are the ones I remember. So what I have learned through all this is that if you are not a card-carrying Indian with a number issued to you by your tribe which has been federally recognized, you are not an Indian according to federal law. These are laws; many of them given to the United States government by federally recognized tribes to protect the rights of those who are federally recognized. And sad to say, the law is the law. So, who am I? is my question. This is where you have to make a decision in your heart. As I told my lawyer, "I am a Lipan Apache Indian. I was brought up a Lipan Apache Indian. We have been practicing our culture ever since I can remember. We have a history, and ancestors who made us who we are. Because of all this, I have convictions in my heart for the right to use what I feel are my God-given rights as a Lipan Apache. The law might tell me otherwise, but that does not change who I am and who God has created me." Our lawyer told me that if things are going to change, it will not be in the court system but through our governmental officials. He said that we have to unite ourselves and let our politicians know what is happening, and that laws need to be changed. Now our lawyer did tell me one thing of great interest to all who are not federally recognized. That within the next year or two, a case is getting ready to go to the Supreme Court over this issue, feathers and the those who are not federally recognized. He said there is a big possibility that the laws will change because eagles are no longer an endangered species. So keep an eye open for that, and see what we can do to help them decide for all of us who do not carry a BIA card.
WHAT DO I PLAN TO DO?
I do not know about you and your tribe, but we did not survive all these years in the deserts by hiding and running away.Â As soon as this is over, I need your help to inform the following representatives about what has happened. Not so much about the feathers, but of what I feel are still violations of our religious rights as Native Americans and how our circle was violated when the officer came in with no regard to who we are as Indian people. I have a letter ready to go from our tribal chairman which I will e-mail to all who have written to me the last week and a half. If you really care and want to do something to correct what has happened, I encourage you to invest $1.56 in four stamps and write to the four political representatives whose names I will provide as soon as this is over. Many of you have said to me, "What else can I do besides pray?" Well, here will be your opportunity to do something. Can you imagine what would happen if four or five thousand letters poured into the offices of our political officials? At least the voice of our Indian people will be heard. I am praying that more than four or five thousand letters come in. I am praying that with your help, you can get the word around and thousands more will come in. This will at least give them a little idea of the gravity of the issue and that this is not just Robert Soto in South Texas speaking, but the whole world.
WHAT CAN YOU PRAY FOR?
All this time we have been asking you to pray for Mike and me. By the way, Mike is my brother-in-law. But there are some spiritual issues I need you to pray for. This issue has affected our children. Many of our children are afraid of the federal government now and see them as the bad people because they will not allow us to be who we are, Indians. As Dillon, one of my nephews said to his mother, "Why should we dance if we cannot wear our feathers?" I know the feathers do not make the Indian, but at the same time, they are a symbol of who we are and who God the Creator made us. In 1847, the state of Texas passed a law outlawing not just the Lipan Apaches, but all Indian tribes from within its borders. It was at this time that we went underground with our ceremonies and language and dances. If our ancestors were captured as Indians they were either sent to the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico, or imprisoned, or killed and scalped because the scalp of a Lipan Apache brought 100 pesos for a man's scalp, 75 pesos for a woman's scalp and 50 pesos for our child's scalp by the Mexican government. This is our history; maybe you are wondering, "Why are you telling us this and what does this have to do with eagle feathers?" I tell you this because we will never be able to have a family traditional gathering again without the worry of a federal official deciding to make a name for himself and deciding to come and take our feathers or the feathers of anyone attending our celebration. So once again, we will have to take our ceremonies and pow wows underground and not invite the public or advertise for others to come. Pray for us, the Lipan Apaches. This will take a long time to recover. I will write more after the turning over of our feathers. It will be a very emotional event. Keep us in prayer.
Robert Soto - Lipan Apache Warrior for Jesus
MORE ABOUT ROBERT SOTO: www.mcallen.lib.tx.us/library/tsrp05.htm