Native American religion

Bear Butte, in South Dakota, is a sacred site for over 30 Plains tribes.

Native American religions are the spiritual practices of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. This article focuses on Native North Americans. Traditional Native American ceremonial ways can vary widely, and are based on the differing histories and beliefs of individual tribes, clans and bands. Early European explorers describe individual Native American tribes and even small bands as each having their own religious practices. Theology may be monotheistic, polytheistic, henotheistic, animistic, or some combination thereof. Traditional beliefs are usually passed down in the forms of oral histories, stories, allegories and principles, and rely on face to face teaching in one's family and community.

Overview

From the 1600s, European Catholic and Protestant denominations sent missionaries to convert the tribes to Christianity. Some of these conversions occurred through government and Christian church cooperative efforts, that forcibly removed Native American children from their families into a Christian/state government-operated system of American Indian boarding schools (aka The Residential Schools) where Native children were taught European Christian beliefs, the values of mainstream white culture, and the English language. This forcible conversion and suppression of Indigenous languages and cultures continued through the 1970s. [1] [2] [3]

As part of the US government's suppression of traditional Indigenous religions, most ceremonial ways were banned for over 80 years by a series of US Federal laws that banned traditional sweat lodge and sun dance ceremonies, among others. [4] This government persecution and prosecution continued until 1978 with the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA). [5]

Some non-Native anthropologists estimate membership in traditional Native American religions in the 21st century to be about 9000 people. [6] [7] Since Native Americans practicing traditional ceremonies do not usually have public organizations or membership rolls, these "members" estimates are likely substantially lower than the actual numbers of people who participate in traditional ceremonies. Native American spiritual leaders also note that these academic estimates substantially underestimate the numbers of participants because a century of US Federal government persecution and prosecutions of traditional ceremonies caused believers to practice their religions in secrecy. Many adherents of traditional spiritual ways also attend Christian services, at least some of the time, which can also affect statistics. Since the 80 years of those prior legal persecutions ended with AIRFA, some sacred sites in the United States are now protected areas under law. [8]