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In a lengthy, controversial case that stirred deep passions among aboriginal leaders, a 56-year old native carver has been fined $11,000 on multiple charges of possessing eagle parts and one count of trafficking in dead wildlife.

The punishment for James Carl Joseph was handed down this week in Surrey Provincial Court by Judge James Jardine, who earlier rejected Mr. Joseph's argument that he had rights as an aboriginal person to the feathers, claws and talons.

Many native bands throughout North America consider the eagle sacred, and there is pent-up demand for eagle parts to adorn ceremonial costumes.

Conservation investigators uncovered a far-flung trade in illegal eagle parts, after the discovery of more than 40 dead eagles, minus their feet, on the North Vancouver reserve of the Tseil-Waututh in 2005.

The killing of so many eagles, which had been left to rot in a shallow grave, sparked widespread revulsion among natives and non-natives, alike. At the time, Leonard George, son of the legendary Chief Dan George, called the killings on his home reserve "a horrifying event that's out of sync with any of our traditions".

No one has been charged in connection with those eagle deaths, but the subsequent investigation led to charges against a number of natives for possessing and trafficking in other eagle parts.

The accusations against Mr. Joseph drew attention because of his assertion of aboriginal rights.

Native leaders rallied to the cause. While they said they don't condone mass killings of eagles, they criticized undercover conservations officers for a sting operation against natives engaged in a much lower level of activity.

Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the Fraser Valley's Sto:lo Nation, who has a ceremonial headband laced with eagle feathers, said there is nothing wrong with harvesting an occasional eagle.

"We're troubled when we see people nailed just for practicing their aboriginal rights by maybe [taking] an eagle or hawk for cultural and spiritual ceremonies," he said.

During Mr. Joseph's trial, however, more than half a dozen natives, including elders, criticized his practices, testifying that he had not treated the carcasses and parts with appropriate reverence.

Mr. Joseph was fined $5,000 on the charge of trafficking in dead wildlife, and $1,000 on each of the six counts of possessing eagle parts.

Of the total, $7,000 will go to the province's Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

The Crown had asked for a jail term of one to three months for Mr. Joseph, plus a fine of $20,000.

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