haliaeetus_leucocephalus-tree-usfws-1Last month, the Colorado Division of Wildlife seemed perplexed by the discovery of a “mutilated” and beheaded bald eagle in Boulder County’s Legion Park Hill. The Humane Society of the United States was so outraged it offered a reward for information that would lead to the arrest of a poacher. But it was all a big misunderstanding, as American Indians rushed to the defense of Darrell Pino, a member of the Navajo tribe who lives in Colorado Springs (via Boulder’s Camera). Pino obtained the bird through a lengthy application process to the National Eagle Repository, which collects dead eagles and provides feathers and carcasses to Native Americans for religious use. The eagle arrived at Pino’s house about a year ago, where it was blessed and later brought to Legion Park, near a sweat lodge, and returned to the earth—wrapped in red cloth and placed in a tree.

Two hikers discovered the bird in June, leading wildlife officials to form a dragnet. After hearing the news that the eagle had been removed, Pino was unable to sleep for days. Finally he was able to return it to rest. “It’s not the community’s fault for being ignorant about another culture’s beliefs and ways,” Myron Pourier of the Oglala-Sioux Tribe says (via 9News). “It is our job as native people of this country to educate you all.”