Skip to main content

This is the second in a three-part series on the Dark Ages of American Indian Religious Freedom.

For the past five centuries, American Indians have had their religions suppressed (sometimes brutally and violently) and denied. With the formation of the United States and the adoption of the Bill of Rights which speaks of freedom of religion, this freedom has been denied to American Indians based on the notion that they were not citizens and therefore this freedom did not apply to them. The period of time from 1870 to 1934 can be considered the Dark Ages for American Indian Religious Freedom. During this time, the active suppression of American Indian religions reached its peak.

In this diary, we are going to look at how the United States outlawed American Indian religions.

In 1883, the Secretary of the Interior reported that the heathen practices of American Indians had to be eliminated. He instructed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to compel the discontinuance of dances and feasts. He asked Congress for greater power to deal with the Indian spiritual leaders (often called "medicine men"). He asked that steps be taken to compel "these impostors to abandon this deception and discontinue their practices."

Following the recommendations of the Secretary of the Interior, missionaries, and other influential "friends of the Indian," the United States formally outlawed "pagan" ceremonies in 1884. Indians who were found guilty of participating in traditional religious ceremonies were to be imprisoned for 30 days. This was seen as an important step in the destruction of the Indian way of life.

In 1892, Congress strengthened the law against Indian religions. Under the new regulations, Indians who openly advocated Indian beliefs, those who performed religious dances, and those involved in religious ceremonies were to be imprisoned.

On a regular basis, the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs reminded the Indian agents of the need to suppress Indian religions. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1902 told reservation agents: "You are therefore directed to induce your male Indians to cut their hair." According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

"The wearing of short hair by the males will be a great step in advance, and will certainly hasten their progress toward civilization."  

Under the new guidelines, Indian men with long hair were to be denied rations. If they still refused to cut their hair, "short confinement in the guardhouse at hard labor with shorn locks, should furnish a cure."

On the Hopi Reservation, the Indian agent forced a number of men to cut their hair. The agent disregarded the ceremonial purpose of long hair. Hopi men traditionally grew their hair long in the back as a symbol of the falling rain for which they prayed. For the Hopi, for a man to have his hair cut during the growing season was tantamount to asking that the corn stop growing.

Indian agents were also instructed to stop Indians from using face paint. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

"The use of this paint leads to many disease of the eyes among those Indians who paint. Persons who have given considerable thought and investigation to the subject are satisfied that this custom causes the majority of cases of blindness among the Indians of the United States."

In addition, Indian dances and feasts were to be prohibited. According to the BIA:

"Feasts are simply subterfuges to cover degrading acts and to disguise immoral purposes."

Native American Netroots Web BadgeCross Posted at Native American Netroots

 An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes and current solutions to those issues.

                red_black_rug_design2

Updated:

Here are the links to the early diaries:

Faith-Based Reservations

Desecrating American Indian Graves

Originally posted to Ojibwa on Thu Mar 11, 2010 at 07:21 AM PST.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Meteor Blades, Kimberley, Sean Robertson, Odysseus, teacherken, laurak, leftcoast, Rolfyboy6, its simple IF you ignore the complexity, greenbird, tnichlsn, Avila, karlpk, tommurphy, Fabienne, Sherri in TX, ETinKC, mslat27, eeff, SallyCat, silence, scribe, Gustogirl, bronte17, wvtrailerdweller, peace voter, boadicea, carolina stargazer, mkfarkus, Aquarius40, Frederick Clarkson, navajo, Cedwyn, high uintas, hopeful, wader, NMRed, Oke, Sycamore, brainwave, grannyhelen, TiaRachel, texasmom, GN1927, hazzcon, Timbuk3, lahke, zdefender, zerelda, lonespark, TexasLefty, Virginia Liberal, lyvwyr101, bablhous, vacantlook, eve, Irish Patti, Sybil Liberty, libnewsie, G2geek, marina, radarlady, SisTwo, capelza, David R, SherwoodB, Roadbed Guy, OpherGopher, Rezkalla, ccasas, elkhunter, catleigh, YucatanMan, trinityfly, boofdah, Pam from Calif, washingtonsmith, Sara R, exmearden, Ekaterin, Land of Enchantment, Mother Mags, martini, Jennifer Clare, BachFan, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, Keone Michaels, BlueInARedState, tobendaro, Themistoclea, fiddler crabby, Lefty Coaster, blueoasis, megisi, TalkieToaster, 4Freedom, arbiter, plf515, sceptical observer, ER Doc, a small quiet voice, dirkster42, means are the ends, Dreaming of Better Days, blueoregon, revgerry, Statusquomustgo, Friend of the court, slksfca, rkh, OHdog, Drama Queen, jlb1972, john07801, dotsright, Duke S, Ann Galloway, Loudoun County Dem, Deadicated Marxist, linkage, threegoal, Redbear, Jimdotz, DWG, bnasley, RosyFinch, second gen, jnhobbs, millwood, yella dawg, cececville, Dar Nirron, The Red Pen, cacamp, sable, willb48, Terra Mystica, LynneK, TomP, coolblue72, Spruce, mayrose, kimoconnor, Boisepoet, Senor Unoball, Involuntary Exile, minerva1157, Deep Harm, Jake Williams, Neosho, MsWings, bob zimway, BYw, allie123, Robinswing, SciMathGuy, MTmarilyn, Shhs, velvet blasphemy, earicicle, CamillesDad1, MKSinSA, bfitzinAR, sanglug, Denise Oliver Velez, IreGyre, RadioGirl, sfarkash, seeta08, DaNang65, etara, deviant24x, Amber6541, smileycreek, brentbent, coppercelt, hillgiant, angry liberaltarian, rb137, amk for obama, freewilly, kjoftherock, KentuckyKat, elginblt, SlackwareGrrl, addisnana, Weaselina, amazinggrace, translatorpro, no way lack of brain, Colorado is the Shiznit, meralda, StateofEuphoria, Airmid, croyal, BlueJessamine, ontheleftcoast, the national gadfly, QuestionAuthority, FarWestGirl, SoCaliana, KVoimakas, Dixie Liberal, enhydra lutris, EdgedInBlue, Bill in MD, Tyto Alba, mali muso, wide eyed lib, cailloux, Brimi, zenox, StepLeftStepForward, PrometheusUnbound, KiB, Aji, state of confusion, im a plugger, outspoken82

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site