For Native Americans, religious freedom has been an elusive goal.
From nineteenth-century bans on indigenous ceremonial practices to
twenty-first-century legal battles over sacred lands, peyote use,
and hunting practices, the U.S. government has often acted as if
Indian traditions were somehow not truly religious and therefore
not eligible for the constitutional protections of the First
Amendment. In this book, Tisa Wenger shows that cultural notions
about what constitutes "religion" are crucial to public debates
over religious freedom.
In the 1920s, Pueblo Indian leaders in New Mexico and a sympathetic
coalition of non-Indian reformers successfully challenged
government and missionary attempts to suppress Indian dances by
convincing a skeptical public that these ceremonies counted as
religion. This struggle for religious freedom forced the Pueblos to
employ Euro-American notions of religion, a conceptual shift with
complex consequences within Pueblo life. Long after the dance
controversy, Wenger demonstrates, dominant concepts of religion and
religious freedom have continued to marginalize indigenous
traditions within the United States.