The paper tiger and its predecessors: An ethnologic history of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act

Daniel Spencer Wall, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


The American Indian Religious Freedom Act has proven to be a terrible disappointment for the Indians all across the country. This act presupposed an analogy between Native American ceremonial practices and Euro-American religions, but Native American ceremonies involve a broader range social institutions than Euro-American "religion." Hence, the analogy between Indian ceremonies and Euro-American religions broke down after passage of the act, and Indians failed to receive the legal remedies sought under its provisions. The following is an attempt to address the problems associated with this act by examining the historical development of a Native American rhetoric of religious freedom in the twentieth-century.