The Eagle Huntress is a documentary about a young girl from northwest Mongolia. During the premier of the documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in January, she was honored by being spiritually adopted into a Native American tribe.
For the past 2,000 years, only men have been allowed to participant in the sport of eagle hunting. This all changed when a 13-year-old girl, daughter of a Master Eagle Hunter, broke from tradition and learned the trade of her father. The Eagle Huntress documents the life of a Muslim girl named Aisholpan, filled with underlining themes of trailblazing and female empowerment. Stacey Reiss is one of the producers of the film.
“I think we need more heroines. I think we need more female role models – people that are doing things that young children, boys and girls, can look up to – can be inspired by and I thought that her drive and her bravery to do something that had never been done before in 2,000 years. And also her father’s ability to support her and give her a strong foundation. I just thought that this story about a father and a daughter and her story was just one that needed to be shared with many people.”
Traditionally Reiss says eagle hunting is an ancient art passed on from father to son.
“I think what Agalai, Aisholpan’s father did is quite remarkable. I’d say he’s an evolved person. But I think really what it was, it was about their relationship. He saw that she was working hard, wanted to do chores with him outside. She just kept asking and she just had this natural ability and connection with his bird. He saw that and he agreed to start training her.”
In January, Aisholpan and her parents flew to Park City where they attended the premier of the film where a ceremony was held in their honor. Dressed in traditional fur, Aisholpan and her family were greeted by two representatives of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma who also brought an eagle. In recognition of the similarities between the Mongolian nomadic tribe and this Native American tribe, Aisholpan was honored with a ceremonial blessing and gifting of a name by Comanche representative Waha Thuweeka.
“We consider the people of Mongolia relations to us. They’re a horse culture, not too much unlike ours and that’s very near and dear to us. With the experience with the eagles, we’re connected by the energy of the living bird. It’s multi-faceted why this is important to support this documentary that features this wonderful way of life but to claim the relationship by sharing a historical name with her.”
The backdrop for the ceremony was a Native American yurt. Waha Thuweeka created smoke by burning dried juniper on a hot coal. The juniper tree is a symbol of strength for the Comanche people.
“The smoke is considered a vehicle for carrying our prayers and petitions to the Almighty. Smoke continues rising, that’s why so many cultures call on smoke for prayerful activities. We combine the offering of the smoke with the energy of the eagle. That’s why the eagle feathers are used to dispatch our prayers and petitions to travel on that smoke to the Almighty. And with the historical belief that only the eagle can fly high enough and far enough to see the face of God. That’s why our people have to call on the energy of the eagle for this purpose.”
With the use of an eagle feather, he directed the rising smoke on to Aisholpan and gives her the name.
Her Comanche name translates to Golden Eagle Hunting Woman.
“She started this as a child but it’s taken her into the realm of womanhood.”
The whistle being used is made out of a wing bone from an eagle. It’s typical for the hunters to use these whistles while training their eagles. They faced north, east, south and west presenting Aisholpan’s new Comanche name.
The Eagle Huntress has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. There's also talk to turn the documentary into an animated feature with executive producer Daisy Ridley, from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as the voice of the young heroine. Click here to hear a conversation with the director Otto Bell on Access Utah.