SOC101Y1 Lecture Notes - American Indian Religious Freedom Act, American Indian Movement, Captive Nations
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• Pan-Indianism refers to intertribal social movements in which several tribes, joined by political goals
but not by kinship, unite in a common identity. Today, these pan-Indian efforts are most vividly seen in
cultural efforts and political protests of government policies.
• Proponents of this movement see the tribes as captive nations or internal colonies. They generally see
the enemy as the federal government. Until recently, pan-Indian efforts usually failed to overcome the
cultural differences and distrust between tribal groups. Although there are some exceptions (e.g., the
Ghost Dance), it took nearly a century and a half of BIA policies to accomplish a significant level of
• A recent and the most visible pan-Indian group is the American Indian Movement (AIM), which initially
created a patrol to monitor police actions and document charges of police brutality. Eventually, it
promoted programs for alcohol rehabilitation and school reform. By 1972, AIM was nationally known
not for its neighborhood-based reforms but for its aggressive confrontations with the BIA and law
Native Americans Today
1) Religious and Spiritual Expression
• Like other aspects of Native American culture, the expression of religion is diverse, reflecting the
variety of tribal traditions and the assimilationist pressure of the Europeans. Initially, missionaries and
settlers expected Native Americans simply to forsake their traditions for European Christianity, and, as
in the case of the Ghost Dance, sometimes force was used to do so.
• Today’s Native Americans are asking that their cultural traditions be recognized as an expression of
pluralist rather than assimilationist coexistence.
• Today, many Protestant churches and Roman Catholic parishes with large tribal congregations
incorporate customs such as the sacred pipe ceremony, native incenses, ceremonies affirming care for
the earth, and services and hymns in native languages. After generations of formal and informal
pressure to adopt Christian faiths and their rituals, in 1978 Congress enacted the American Indian
Religious Freedom Act, which declares that it is the government’s policy to “protect and preserve the
inherent right of American Indians to believe, express, and practice their traditional religions.” This act
was amended in 1994 to allow Native Americans the right to use, transport, and possess peyote for
• Another area of spiritual concern is the stockpiling of Native American relics, including burial remains.
Contemporary Native Americans are increasingly seeking the return of their ancestors’ remains and
artifacts, a demand that alarms museum and archeologists. The Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act of 1990 requires an inventory of such collections and provides for the return of
materials if a claim can be substantiated.
• Many scholars believe the ancient bones and burial artifacts are valuable clues to humanity’s past, and
understanding that reflects a difference in cultural traditions. Although Western scientists have been
dissecting cadavers for hundreds of years, many tribes believe that disturbing the graves of ancestors
will bring spiritual sickness to the living.
2) Economic Development
• The Native Americans are an impoverished people. Compared to Whites, Native Americans are
dismally behind on all standards of income and occupational status. A 1995 national survey showed that
overall unemployment is more than 30 percent. Among those who have jobs, a third earned less than
$10,000. Those who are employed are less likely to be managers, professionals, technicians,
salespeople, or administrators.
• Native Americans generally find work in one of three areas: tourism, casino gambling, and government
• Tourism is an important source of employment for many reservation residents, who either serve the
needs of visitors directly or sell souvenirs and crafts. This area of work faces a number of challenges:
1) Craft work rarely realizes the profits most Native Americans desire and need. Most Whites are
interested in trinkets, not the more expensive and profitable items.
2) Many craft workers have been manipulated by other Native Americans and Whites to produce what
the tourists want; creativity and authenticity often are replaced by mechanical duplication of “genuine
3) There is a growing concern and controversy surrounding art such as paintings and pottery that may
not be produced by real Native Americans but nonetheless fetches high prices.
• A more recent source of significant income and some employment has been the introduction of
gambling on reservations. Forms of gambling, originally part of tribal ceremonies or celebrations, existed
long before Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. Today, however, commercial gambling is the
only viable source of employment and revenue available to some tribes.
• The economic impact on some reservations has been enormous, and nationwide receipts amounted to
$10.6 billion in 2000 from reservation casino operations. However, the wealth is uneven: about two-
thirds of the recognized Indian tribes have no gambling ventures. The tribes that make substantial
revenue from gambling include less than 1 percent of the total Native American people. The most
typical picture is of moderately successful gambling operations associated with tribes whose social and
economic needs are overwhelming.
• Another major source of employment for Native Americans is the government, principally the BIA but
also other federal agencies, the military, and state and local governments. In 1970, one of every four
employed Native Americans worked for the federal government.
• More than half the BIA’s employees have tribal ancestry. In fact, since 1854, the BIA has had a policy of
giving employment preference to Native Americans over Whites. Although this policy has been
questioned, the U.S. Supreme Court (Morton v. Mancari) upheld it in 1974.
• The dominant feature of reservation life is unemployment. A government report issued by Full
Employment Action Council opened with the statement that that such words as “severe,” “massive,”
and “horrendous” are appropriate to describe unemployment among Native Americans.
• Official unemployment figures for reservations range from 23 percent to 90 percent. The 1990 Census
showed that the poorest county in the nation was wholly on tribal lands: Shannon County, South
Dakota, of the Pine Ridge Reservation, had a 63 percent poverty rate.
• Unemployment rates for urban-based Indians are also very high; Los Angeles reports more than 40
percent and Minneapolis 49 percent.
• Federal control of the education of Native American children has had mixed results from the
beginning. Several tribes started their own school systems at the beginning of the nineteenth century,
financing the schools themselves. The Cherokee tribe developed an extensive school system that taught
both English and Cherokee, the latter using an alphabet developed by the famed leader Sequoyah.
Literacy for the Cherokees was estimated at 90 percent by the mid-1800s, and they even produced a
bilingual newspaper. The Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole also maintained school systems, but by the
end of the nineteenth century, all these schools had been closed by federal order.
• Not until the 1930s did the federal government become committed to ensuring an education for
Native American children. Despite this push for education, numerous problems face Native American
1) A serious problem in Native American education has been the unusually high level of
underenrollment. Many children never attend school, or they leave while in elementary school and
never return. Enrollment rates are as low as 30 percent for Alaska Eskimos. This dropout rate is nearly
three times that of Whites. The term “dropout” is misleading because many tribal American
schoolchildren have found their educational experience so hostile that they had no choice but to leave.
2) There is little consensus regarding how to measure to quality of Native American education, and