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American Indian Religious Freedom Act

 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act (commonly abbreviated to AIRFA) is a 1978 United States federal law and a joint resolution of Congress which pledged to protect and preserve the traditional religious rights of American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts, and Native Hawaiians. Before the AIRFA was passed, certain U.S. federal laws interfered with the traditional religious practices of many American Indians. The Act led to a number of changes in government policies, but critics argue that the Act was inadequately enforced and that additional reforms are still needed.

 

Due to the complex nature of American Indian religious beliefs, American Indian religions were often at odds with existing federal laws and government policies. There were three general areas of conflict. Firstly, American Indians did not have access to a number of sacred places that were used in religious ceremonies because these sites had been designated as national parks or other federal lands. Because of this, American Indian religious practices often came into conflict with the idea that American public lands exist for the use and benefit of the American people. Another conflict was the restriction of sacred items. Certain essential ceremonial items, such as eagle feathers or bones (a protected species) or peyote (a restricted drug), were restricted. The third general area of conflict was an issue of interference. Sacred ceremonies were sometimes subject to interference from overzealous officials or curious onlookers.

 

The act itself was more a policy statement, and it acknowledged prior infringement on the right of freedom of religion for American Indians by denying them their First Amendment right of “free exercise” of religion. President Jimmy Carter said, in a statement about the AIRFA, a very similar thing:

 

In the past, Government agencies and departments have on occasion denied Native Americans access to particular sites and interfered with religious practices and customs where such use conflicted with Federal regulations. In many instances, the Federal officials responsible for the enforcement of these regulations were unaware of the nature of traditional native religious practices and, consequently, of the degree to which their agencies interfered with such practices.

 

This legislation seeks to remedy this situation.

 

Most Americans are astounded to learn that not all people are treated equally. It is shocking to learn that Native peoples did not have religious freedom until 1978, and in many cases, are still denied those rights today.

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Several times a year we return to Robert’s homeland in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.  Besides Mom, we still have many aunts, uncles, and cousins living on the rez.  We also travel to many other nations throughout Indian Country, and we would be remise to talk about bullying without taking the time to recognize the special issues faced by Native children who live on reservations across this great nation.  

On some reservations in the United States, the conditions are equivalant to the quality of life in a 3rd world country.  If you are like most middle-class Americans, you probably were not aware of this. Risk factors that trigger bullying are often higher on the reservation.  These children may face:

  • Stereotypes and misconceptions of what it means to be Native American, and inherent bullying by the predominant culture
  • Generational poverty
  • Generational alcoholism and drug addiction
  • Poor nutrition and diet
  • Substandard and Inadequate housing
  • Family structures that are not intact

And the list goes on… As human beings, we need to recognize the differences that we all have, and respect each others’ cultures and beliefs. It is only through this respect that people will find their inherent dignity.

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