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This Day in History: America's Religious Freedom Act Enacted on August 11, 1978 Boosts Indigenous Culture

Forty-four years ago on this day in history, the American Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), a joint resolution of Congress, was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

“Historically, government agencies and ministries have sometimes denied Native Americans access to certain sites or interfered with religious customs and practices, making such use inconsistent with federal regulations. In many cases, federal officials charged with enforcing these regulations were unaware of the nature of traditional indigenous religious practices and, as a result, the extent to which their agencies were concerned with such practices. Didn’t realize how much it interfered with activity: “This law seeks to remedy this situation.”

Many aspects of Indigenous culture were outlawed before AIRFA became law. The tribe could not perform sacred ceremonies or pass on teachings to younger generations.

Although the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right to religious liberty, the spiritual and religious rights of Native Americans have been severely violated. Laws that severely ban the practices of indigenous traditions and cultures were a direct attack on their religious freedom.

One of the problems AIRFA was trying to remedy was the difficulty in procuring and using ceremonial feathers, especially eagle feathers. Bald eagles were considered an endangered species, and access to them by natives was severely restricted.

In 1979, an announcement by the Native American Rights Fund explained the importance of feathers.

“It is difficult for non-Indians to understand and accept the fact that Indians attach religious importance to the use of feathers in certain rituals. They are essential to have,” the NARF statement said.

Eight years later, President Bill Clinton mandates that federal agencies, in managing federal land, address access and use of sacred sites and ensure that such sites are not adversely affected. I signed an executive order.

Later, in 1994, the law was amended to state that “It is lawful for Indians to use, possess or transport peyote for bona fide traditional ritual purposes in connection with traditional Indian religious practices.” , shall not be prohibited by the United States.” By State or State. “

To this day, the Native American Religious Freedom Act is still in effect. This law enabled tribes across the country to perform sacred ceremonies and pass on traditional teachings and traditions to the next generation.

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About the author

neely bardwell
author: neely bardwellEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. JavaScript must be enabled to view.

Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indian) is a freelance writer who began working as an intern at Native News Online in the summer of 2021. Bardwell is a student at Michigan State University, majoring in policy and a minor in American Studies, a Native American.