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Wyoming American Indian Prisoner Wins Consent Decree to Receive Feathers

Wyoming American Indian Prisoner Wins Consent Decree to Receive Feathers

In a victory for American Indian prisoners, the Wyoming State Penitentiary (WSP) has entered into a consent decree that allows a prisoner to possess up to four eagle feathers in his cell and a feather fan will be available for group activities.

That decree was entered in a lawsuit brought by WSP prisoner Andrew Yellowbear, who is a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, a federally recognized Indian tribe situated on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Yellowbear’s suit sought relief under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Eagle feathers play a significant role in the traditional American Indian religious exercises. “The feathers are used to communicate prayers to the Creator and to receive answers to prayers,” said Stephan Pevar, an ACLU attorney who represented Yellowbear. Prior to filing his lawsuit, Yellowbear was only allowed to possess one feather. After he filed suit, prison officials confiscated that feather.

The Consent Decree provides that prison officials have changed their policies to allow Yellowbear to possess four feathers and storage of the feather fan for group activities. The ACLU was awarded $8,000 in attorney fees for the “couple of weeks” they represented Yellowbear. See: Yellowbear v. Lampert, USDC, D.WYO. Case No: 08-CV-0135.

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