I was invited Saturday with a group of museum friends to visit The Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative. The Initiative, called Sia for short (meaning “feather” in the Comanche language) states it’s mission as the "preservation through cultural understanding of the eagle in history, science and spirit." It was an unforgettable afternoon.
Sia's facilities are located in southwestern Oklahoma, where the Ohnononuh band of Comanches were allotted acreage at the turn of the century. The Cyril compound is open to the public by appointment and they offer visiting scholars a place to stay when researching. Although the founders travel worldwide, there’s always someone close at hand, since they live on the grounds. The Initiative also owns additional acreage nearby. The people who work with the birds enjoy reaching out to the local community, showing schoolchildren the characteristics of different species and how to identify them.
The compound is very unassuming from the outside; quite another world within.
After a delicious luncheon, we were given an introduction and tour by Bill Voelker, co-founder and director of Sia. First we visited the archives and storage area, which were quite impressive. Here’s one view of the archives reading room, with some friends from our group.
Bill showed us some Comanche tribal documents which I’ve never seen before, called “heirship” documents. They help families trace land ownership and include eyewitness accounts from the early 20th century. There is also a substantial photographic collection. The images show evidence of how feathers were used in everyday life and for ceremonies.
The artifacts at Sia include various feathers, independently and part of objects. Many of the items, such as staffs and musical instruments, hold significant meaning and possess powerful medicine because of the eagle feathers. The storage area was very high tech, with pressurized doors and a state-of-the-art air filtration system. Here you can see a few items behind glass, on display.
One of the most amazing things Sia does is to fertilize eagle eggs, helping to perpetuate the eagle population. The Initiative works in cooperative with regional, national and international groups, protecting the eagle worldwide.
This is a view from the habitat area, looking at their back door. I took photos of some of the birds, who had outdoor rooms, with screened ceilings.
Different species of eagles are usually not seen together. This Golden Eagle (below, right) accepted this Bald Eagle (left) when it was brought into the same area. They even perch on the same rock and preen each other. It's hard to imagine how large these birds are, without a reference point. They stand two to three feet high.
Here is a African black eagle that lives at Sia.
This European Eagle Owl, "Ooah" was hooting up a storm, looking for attention, I supposed. We were told that many Comanches consider the owl bad medicine, and refuse to go into his area.
Everyone who works here has a deep-felt love for the birds and their Comanche ties. Troy (below), co-founder of Sia, talks to a visitor with one of his “wives” (this is not an eagle; sorry Troy, I forget what species you told us)
I need to say thank you, Bill and Troy, for opening your home and Sia to us. And thank you, Debra, for asking me to join you. It was a very moving experience.