Monday, October 8, 2012

Daily Read: Skibine on Native American Religious Land Protections

In Towards A Balanced Approach for the Protection of Native American Sacred Sites, 17 Mich. J. Race & L. 269 (2012), available on ssrn, ConLawProf Alex Tallchief Skibine navigates the difficult territory of the First Amendment and RFRA, including the applicability of Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery, in the context of  Native American claims. 

Skibine posits that "Native American religions are land based."  He notes that sacred places "used to be located within the tribes' ancestral territories, but as a result of conquest, land cessions, and other historical events, many sacred sites are now located on federal land."  Skibine criticizes the tendency, so evident in Lyng, to “equate Indians' religious exercises at sacred sites with Western yoga-like practices.”

 In other words, this view portrays Native religious activities at sacred sites as only about spiritual peace of mind. While such benefits are certainly part of the practice, they do not go to the heart of why these sacred places are important to Indian people or why management practices like cutting down trees and spilling recycled sewage water on sacred land are extremely disturbing to many Indian tribes. The importance of sacred sites to Indian tribes and Native practitioners is less about individual spiritual development and more about the continuing existence of Indians as a tribal people. The preservation of these sites as well as tribal people's ability to practice their religion there is intrinsically related to the survival of tribes as both cultural and self-governing entities

 

Prayer-flags-huey_59625_990x742
"Prayer Flags, Wyoming"
photograph by Aaron Huey, National Geographic, Photo of the Day (October 1, 2012).
"Nine-year-old Wakinyan Two Bulls places prayer flags in a tree near Mato Tipila ("bear lodge"), or Devils Tower, in Wyoming."

 

 Professor Skibine proposes legislative compromise and clarity, including an intermediate scrutiny standard, arguing:

In adopting intermediate scrutiny to review governmental actions jeopardizing sacred sites, I hope to appease some critics who will argue that Native Americans should not be allowed to use religion to reclaim control over an unlimited amount of land that was taken from them throughout history. This is another version of the argument made by some that to the Indians, the whole earth is sacred and if we allow one claim, the floodgates will be open and there will be no end to claims of sacredness.

RR
[image via]

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