Manataka™ American Indian Council








by Rev. Thomas M. Haley, Manataka Elder


Religion and war has risen to the top of global discussions. We are now at odds with who’s right and who is wrong. As I write this, about 49 people were slaughtered in Orlando, Florida, and believed to be the largest mass killing of lives on American soil. This is not true. The news reporters keep referring to this each time they do reports. as a hate/religious crime and also as a terrorist act.


The truth is I could list all the treaties broken by the Federal Government. I could write about the slaughter of lives at Wounded Knee. I could write about President Andrew Jackson who wanted to eradicate the Native Americans from the face of the earth.
The conflict at Wounded Knee was originally referred to as a battle, but in reality it was a tragic and avoidable massacre.


Surrounded by heavily armed troops, it’s unlikely that Big Foot’s band would have intentionally started a fight. Some historians speculate that the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were deliberately taking revenge for the regiment’s defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876. Whatever the motives, the massacre ended the Ghost Dance movement and was the last major confrontation in America’s deadly war against the Plains Indians.

Nearly half of the Sioux killed at the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre were women and children. Native American religious practices and the sanctity of sacred sites should be protected as de facto First Amendment rights.

Beginning in the early 19th century, the federal government supported the "civilization" and "Christian education" of Native Americans. Congress financially supported mission activities, including 200 mission schools which prohibited students from practicing their traditional religions. The Dawes Act of 1887 outright prohibited native religious ceremonies and the practices of traditional religious figures. This was the law of the land for almost fifty years.

Imagine holding worship service in a church that is designated by law to be open at all times to the public- hikers, picnickers, and tourists. Imagine rock climbers scaling the walls of the National Cathedral during religious services. Imagine a place of worship in your hometown being replaced by an open pit mine. Imagine leveling the Wailing Wall to build a highway through Jerusalem. Most people in the U.S. take for granted the sanctity of worship sites. For many Native Americans, however, protection for their sacred sites is uncertain at best.

So far, the federal courts have found that neither the First Amendment nor the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 guarantee tribes protection of or access to sacred sites.

For example, in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association (1988), the Supreme Court narrowly defined the federal government's responsibility to protect religious freedom. The court allowed for the U.S. Forest Service to construct a road on USFS land, despite recognizing that construction through the cemetery would "destroy the...Indians' ability to practice their religion." Although a 1996 Executive Order instructed federal agencies to accommodate Native Americans' use of ceremonial sites and to avoid "adversely affecting the physical integrity" of sites, Native Americans have nonetheless had to struggle to protect sites on a case by case basis.

Many Native American prisoners and their advocates have expressed several concerns about the exercise of religious freedom inside prisons. Some religious practices, such as possessing tobacco or prayer pipes, or growing long hair, are illegal in certain prisons. These rules infringe on the rights of Native Americans to practice their traditional faiths if they so choose. Other rights such as access to traditional religious leaders or ceremonies have been blocked by prison administrators wary of that which they do not understand.

Even today, and close to us, Manataka American Indian Council strives to protect the sacred sites in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

So, as we gather to celebrate freedom lets never forget to honor and protect the sacred sites, sacred ways, and sacred religious sites of the Native Americans.

by Rev. Thomas M. Haley, Manataka Elder