February 23, 2007

Native religion as criminal defense

Tribal ceremonies basis for defense:  Watertown man is charged after taking dead hawkSteve Coulter, aka “White Buffalo,” 61, of Watertown, is accused of being in possession of two deceased hawks he found lying along area roads last fall. He was in court for a hearing on a motion by his attorney to dismiss the case.

The birds are not endangered, but are still protected by state and federal law. Being in possession of a hawk, owl or eagle is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Coulter, a disabled contractor who was raised Baptist, said he is the leader of a local Native American tribe called “The People’s Nation.” He is fighting to have the charges dismissed based on his religious beliefs.

Feathers from the hawks were to be used to make fans that would help lift smoke and prayer during ceremonies, Coulter testified.

“We honor birds in their height—the altitude they can fly,” he said. “The closer to the creator they are, the stronger the prayer.”

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