One of the most prominent features of Native American story telling is the use of animals. Of all the animals used, the eagle is by far the most honored creature. The eagle (represented mainly with a feather) is a symbol of love, friendship, honor, bravery, and mystical powers. You can find the symbol of the eagle (or variations) from the North Pole to the most southern part of Argentina. Although each individual tribe has its own stories about this raptor, collectively the stories coincide in similarities.
The eagle is also used for traditional. The Cherokee for example, have a dance called the Eagle Dance that represents strength and power. This dance is often performed at the tribe’s Pow-Wows. You can also find many native headdresses at a summer time Pow-Wow. These magnificent headdresses are made of eagle feathers. Each feather on the headdress represents an honor or incident of bravery. The more feathers a brave has, the more honored he is. Also, the eagle feather can also be compared to the modern tradition of wedding bands. It is tradition for a man to give his bride a feather as a symbol of their life-long union. You see, feathers are like fingerprints; no two feathers are identical except for the “twin feathers” found on the wings of the eagle. Because of this, it is tradition for the feathers to be exchanged between future couples also. In the past a brave was often seen riding to war or to the hunt with a single feather tied to his horse, and his girl slept with the matching single feather tied to her bed.
For some traditional Cherokee natives, the eagle feather is used for ceremonial, healing, and purification purposes to this day. The practice used for these purposes is called Eagle Medicine (the goal is to achieve a certain mind set through diligence, understanding, awareness, and personal visions). The reason the feathers are used is because the eagle represents duality in it own life and ours. The color of the tail feather is divided into two parts, light and dark. The two colors come from the same feather yet they represent darkness and lightness, male and female, substance and shadow, summer and winter, peace and war, and life and death. It is said that the dualism is needed along with the symbol of the eagle to keep balance in the circle of life.
Eagle Medicine is the power
of the Great Spirit,
the connection to the Divine. It is the ability to live
in the realm of spirit, and yet remain connected
and balanced within the realm of Earth. Eagle
soars, and is quick to observe expansiveness within
the overall pattern of life. From the heights oh the
clouds, Eagle is close to the heavens where the
Great Spirit dwells.
-Jamie Sams, Seneca/Choctaw, and David Carson, Choctaw