For the love of turkey – Be like Mike at IP

November 1, 2022
Kimberly Clewis
Kimberly Clewis


In November, there is one bird that becomes wildly popular throughout the United States – the turkey.  Founding Father Benjamin Franklin called this “respectable bird” a “true original native of America.” Perhaps that is why turkeys and their feathers continue to be such an important part of American and Native American culture today.

A sacred symbol

Kenny Bowekaty, archaeologist and tour guide for the Pueblo of Zuni (Ashiwi), New Mexico says the Pueblo Nation has used feathers in sacred ceremonies for thousands of years. The feathers are part of “our esoteric lifeways within our religion” and is still very much a part of daily life. 

The turkey (Do:na) is a symbol of the abundant gifts of nature. These gifts are not infinite however, and Turkey reminds us to honor and nurture all resources so that they are sustainable.

– The Keshi Foundation 

The Zuni Feather Project 

The National Wild Turkey Federation (TWTF) started The Zuni Feather Project years ago to help the Zuni Nation collect feathers for their ceremonies and other projects. While the project has ended, Mike Davis, backtender on GCF’s Riegelwood, NC No. 18 paper machine, continues to collect and donate turkey feathers to the Zuni people, usually driving the 1,800+ miles to New Mexico to personally deliver the feathers.

In the past 21 years, Mike has donated 3.55 million feathers to the Zuni Nation. This year alone, Mike collected 350,000 feathers from 139 birds. “America needs more Mike Davises,” said Bowekaty. “Mike Davis is honored by the Tribe. His contribution of turkey feathers is vital in the function of our religion with the entire community on all levels of our religious hierarchy.”

A wild turkey steps out from behind a tree.
Mike's passion

When asked how he got into collecting feathers, Mike reflects on his passion for hunting wild turkey and his love for all things turkey. Aside from collecting feathers, he has a collection of more than 3,000 turkey memorabilia.

“I learned of the need for the feathers by a people that strongly believe in their heritage and are trying to preserve it,” Davis said. “I have so much respect for that – and it seems rare this day and time – why waste something that is treasured and used by another person?”

As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we may find that the turkey is more than just a Thanksgiving centerpiece. The turkey can help us appreciate Thanksgiving in a new way: honoring the diverse contributions and traditions of others and reminding us to embrace nature’s gifts in sustainable, respectful ways.  

*Keshi is a traditional greeting of the Zuni Pueblo people. Learn more at The Keshi* Foundation