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Ghost Dance and Holy Ghost: The Echoes of Nineteenth-Century Christianization Policy in Twentieth-Century Native American Free Exercise Cases

Allison M. Dussias
Stanford Law Review
Vol. 49, No. 4 (Apr., 1997), pp. 773-852
Published by: Stanford Law Review
DOI: 10.2307/1229337
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1229337
Page Count: 80
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Ghost Dance and Holy Ghost: The Echoes of Nineteenth-Century Christianization Policy in Twentieth-Century Native American Free Exercise Cases
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Abstract

In the late nineteenth century, Native Americans were the subject of a United States government Christianization policy that attempted, with the help of Christian churches, to convert Native Americans to Christianity by assigning reservations to Christian groups for proselytization purposes and by suppressing Native American religious beliefs and practices. In this article, Professor Allison Dussias describes this Christianization policy, and the attitudes, conceptual difficulties, and tensions inherent in it. Professor Dussias then examines recent Native American free exercise cases, and finds a largely unacknowledged persistence of nineteenth-century attitudes in the twentieth-century cases. Although the Establishment Clause was ignored in the nineteenth century and was not an obstacle to Christianization, it has emerged in the twentieth century as a barrier to accommodation of Native American religious beliefs and practices. Professor Dussias chronicles a continuing failure by legal institutions to understand and respect Native American religious beliefs and practices.

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