The American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Public Law No. 95-341, 92 Stat. 469 (Aug. 11, 1978) (commonly abbreviated to AIRFA), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1996, is a United States federal law, enacted by joint resolution of the Congress in 1978. It was enacted to protect and preserve the traditional religious rights and cultural practices of American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts, and Native Hawaiians. These rights include, but are not limited to, access of sacred sites, freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rights and use and possession of objects considered sacred.
The Act required policies of all governmental agencies to eliminate interference with the free exercise of Native American religion, based on the First Amendment, and to accommodate access to and use of religious sites to the extent that the use is practicable and is not inconsistent with an agency’s essential functions. It also acknowledges the prior violation of that right.
Due to the complex nature of American Indian religious beliefs, American Indian religions have often been at odds with existing federal laws and government policies. There have been three general areas of conflict. Firstly, American Indians did not have access to a number of sacred places that were used in religious ceremonies. Native American religious practices often came into conflict with the idea that American public lands exist for the use and benefit of the American people. The results of the passage of the Indian Removal Act and the General Allotment Act were the displacement of hundreds of tribes, including the Five Civilized Tribes of the southeastern United States, and the forced assimilation of Native American families into agricultural settler societies.
The second conflict was the possession of ceremonial items that are restricted by United States Law, such as eagle feathers or bones (a protected species) or peyote. The conflict lies in the fact that items such as peyote are integral parts of ceremonies practiced by members of churches such as the Native American Church. The use of eagle bones in ceremony has been brought up in any case involving Indian claims on hunting and fishing rights allowed for tribal member to hunt for eagles.
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.
Obama Proclaims Río Grande del Norte a National Monument, Significant Site for Natives
Yesterday, March 25, by proclamation, President Obama established Río Grande del Norte as a National Monument. The announcement of a national monument designation has come in response to considerable input from the community including local businesses, sportsmen, elected officials, Latino organizations, Native American tribes and nearly the entire New Mexico congressional delegation.
The Río Grande del Norte National Monument will boost economic growth in northern New Mexico while permanently protecting the heritage, water and approximately 240,000 acres of natural areas and wildlife habitat in the region.
Hispano leaders and organizations, small business owners and the Taos and Mora Valley Chambers of Commerce, sportsmen and ranchers, Native American Pueblos and elected officials, and conservation organizations have come together to thank President Obama for protecting Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
“I applaud President Obama protecting Rio Grande del Norte National Monument because many of the wildlife species that live in that corridor come in and out of this area. Left unprotected, there may be very few animals available that the Native American people of Taos Pueblo depend on for food, clothing and shelter,” says Benito Sandoval, Taos Pueblo War Chief.
Securing Indigenous Rights to Sacred Places With the UN Declaration
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples presents a new opportunity and a new kind of legal authority that could help Native peoples to secure rights to sacred places, and to preserve and protect cultural, religious, and spiritual practices.
The Declaration recognizes and affirms the rights of indigenous peoples to their cultural, religious, and spiritual practices, to have private access to sacred sites (Arts. 12(1), 11(1)), as well as to maintain and strengthen their spiritual relationship with their traditionally held lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources (Art. 25). With the Declaration, Native peoples have rights acknowledged by the international community of nations, including rights to sacred places both within existing reservation or territorial boundaries and beyond.
As rights-holders, Native nations and individuals have the right to cultural, religious, and spiritual practices. As duty-bearer, the U.S. has the responsibility to prevent infringement of these rights.For more: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/05/16/securing-indigenous-rights-sacred-places-un-declaration .
- Outline of United States federal Indian law and policy
- Recognition of Native American sacred sites in the United States
- “1994 Amendments to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978″. National Park Service. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
- President Jimmy Carter commenting on the AIRFA, August 12th, 1978
US Govt & Indigenous Peoples Timeline 1819-2014 (ProPresObama.org Civil Rights Timelines ™)