An eagle feather is a lot like the American flag. It must be handled with care and can never be dropped on the ground. Feathers mean a lot to Native American Tribes. A feather isn’t just something that falls out of a bird, it means much more. The feather symbolizes trust, honor, strength, wisdom, power, freedom and many more things. To be given one of these is to be hand picked out of the rest of the men in the tribe – it’s like getting a gift from a high official.
If any Indian is given Golden or Bald Eagle feathers it is one of the most rewarding items they can ever be handed. The Indians believe that eagles have a special connection with the heavens since they fly so close. Many Indians believe that if they are given this feather, it is a symbol from above. They believe that the eagle is the leader of all birds, because it flies as high as it does and sees better than all the birds.
Once an Indian receives a feather he must take care of it, and many will hang it up in their homes. It is disrespectful to hide it away in a drawer or a closet. An Indian will be given a feather to hold on to or to wear, and if they hold it they must put it out for everyone to see. This will be a constant reminder of how to behave.
The only way an Indian can actually get one of these feathers is by doing a brave deed, like fighting off a bear or going up against the enemy. They were never allowed to wear the feather until they went in front of their tribal court and retold the story of their victory. It was at this time that they were allowed to put it in their headpiece. Only chieftains, warriors, and braves have ever been awarded this special gift. The next time you see eagle feathers in a headdress, think about how they were earned.
For more information see: http://www.indians.org/articles/feathers.html