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At the Boundaries of Religious Identity: Native American Religions and American Legal Culture

Susan Staiger Gooding
Numen
Vol. 43, No. 2, Religion, Law and the Construction of Identities (May, 1996), pp. 157-183
Published by: Brill
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3270345
Page Count: 27
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At the Boundaries of Religious Identity: Native American Religions and American Legal Culture
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Abstract

This essay looks briefly at legal discourses about Native American religions in the late 19th and late 20th centuries, juxtaposing them in order to view the historical trends they represent-the role played by legal discourse in transforming Native American ceremonial practices and the role played by Native American religious discourses in transforming the law. The first section argues that the opposition between religious tolerance and intolerance cannot account for the historical transformations wrought in Native America. Rather than religious oppression in any simple sense, late 19th century legal discourse was one force in the colonization of the ceremonial heritage of Native America. Developments in two areas of legal discourse that have evolved on the basis of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 are the focus of the second half of this essay. If litigation on the basis of AIRFA has provided little foundation for decolonizing Native American religions, the evolution of AIRFA into the Native American Cultural Protection and Free Exercise of Religion Act of 1994 is an exemplary instance of the transformation of legal discourse and an invigoration of democratic procedures and definitions of collective interests in the US. It is argued that Native American rights discourse about religious practices is providing alternative frameworks that can and should significantly orient scholarship of Native America.

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