Symbolic Meanings of the Eagle and the Eagle Feathers

Published on August 3, 2011 by Amy

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Eagle Dance
Eagle Dance

The eagle is honored by North American Indians because it can fly closer to the Great Spirit than any human can.

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This makes it a symbol for wisdom, power, and strength. In some tribes the eagle also represents the sun (because it’s flight symbolizes the sun’s daily passage across the sky.)

The eagle feathers are sacred and regarded as the means by which the prayers of the Native Americans are carried to heaven. The feathers from the Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle are highly prized. To wear an eagle feather is considered a great honor.

Boys are often given eagle feathers when they reach maturity.

The proper handling of the eagle feather is crucial! This is especially true during the Eagle Dance. Eagle feathers are NEVER allowed to touch the ground! So, if a dancer drops one, he is instructed NOT to pick it up. Instead a tribal elder (chosen in advance) is to do it. After the eagle feather has been picked up by the tribal elder, the dancer is suppose to thank him and show his appreciation with a gift. Eagle feathers are also used to make ceremonial objects and ornaments. They also play an important role in many Native American healing rituals.

How do you get an eagle feather? Eagles don’t just donate their feathers. So getting one isn’t easy. It never has been.

In the past, the Hopi Indians carried out special expeditions for the sole purpose of finding young eagles and removing them from their nests. These eagles were fed and cared for until their feathers were needed. When they were, they were killed and placed in a special burial ground for eagles.

When the Cheyenne Indians killed eagles for their feathers, they carried out a lengthy, complicated “apology” ritual beforehand. This was suppose to soothe the eagle’s spirit and trick him into coming close enough so that he could be grabbed (by bare hands.)

Today, when the Native Americans need eagle feathers for special ceremonies, they apply to the government for a special permit. And, when dead eagles are found, government agencies (i.e. National Fish and Wildlife) see to it that their feathers are given to Native Americans who need them.

Source: brownielocks Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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