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We Have a Religion

We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    We Have a Religion
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0586-9
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
    (pp. 1-16)

    ‘‘When the slanting rays of the sun play their last game of light and shade over the irregular pile of adobe rooms of the pueblo, Indian men, one hundred or more, come in long lines from their estufas. One group crosses the old bridge of squared logs down near the high yellow cottonwoods, hinting at the Midas wealth of Glorieta cañon just beyond. On they come to the beat of the drum and form in double lines in front of the church door. In their hands the dancers hold branches of green and yellow signifying the full season of growth...

  6. ONE Pueblos and Catholics in Protestant America
    (pp. 17-58)

    The high point of Zuni Pueblo’s annual round of ceremonies is the Shalako festival, held each year in late November or early December. The powerful beings who give the festival its name appear as giant birds, sometimes called the “Messengers of the Gods,” who carry the Zunis’ prayers for rain to all the corners of the earth. Members of the Zuni order ofkoyemshi, sacred clowns who are often called “mudheads” for their clay-brown masks, signal the impending arrival of the Shalako with announcements in the plaza. Meanwhile, the prayers and ritual purifications that make up the first stages of...

  7. TWO Cultural Modernists and Indian Religion
    (pp. 59-94)

    Mabel Dodge Luhan, arts patron and former member of Greenwich Village’s bohemian avant-garde, recounted in a four-volume autobiography her long quest for a place that would satisfy her inner hunger. “Only religion will fill me,” she remembered thinking. “Someday, I will find God.” Like a number of early twentieth-century artists and intellectuals, she eventually found this sense of fulfillment in New Mexico and especially in her encounters with the Pueblo Indians. She recalled that during her first excursion north from Santa Fe, one crisp winter day in December 1917, the earth itself had seemed to resonate with her inner sense...

  8. THREE Land, Sovereignty, and the Modernist Deployment of ‘‘Religion’’
    (pp. 95-134)

    In the early decades of the twentieth century, while modernists celebrated Indian religion, the Pueblos themselves were facing unprecedented threats to their land, sovereignty, and cultural traditions. As the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) worked to educate and “civilize” Indians around the country, its officials asserted more and more control over Pueblo life. At boarding schools or at the local day schools that most Pueblo children now attended, missionary or government teachers tried to instill a “civilized” disdain for indigenous tradition. Government agents and state authorities assumed the right to overrule tribal governors on both criminal and civil disputes within...

  9. FOUR Dance Is (Not) Religion The Struggle for Authority in Indian Affairs
    (pp. 135-182)

    Among the most outspoken critics of Indian dancing in the mid-1920s was William E. “Pussyfoot” Johnson, former chief special officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a close associate of the Indian Rights Association. In a widely circulated article published in September 1924, Johnson called for the bia to enforce its own policies against what he called “hidious, obscene and revolting” Indian dances. Singling out the “secret” Pueblo ceremonies for condemnation, he claimed that “boys and girls are stripped naked and herded together entirely nude and encouraged to do the very worst that vileness can suggest,” and he quoted...

  10. FIVE The Implications of Religious Freedom
    (pp. 183-236)

    “Resolved,” wrote the newly created Council of Progressive Pueblo Indians in May 1924, ‘‘That we love our homes, our towns and villages and our people, and our Christian God more, and we are sorry that some of the Pueblo officials are cruel toward many of us and try to make slaves of us under pretense of alleged ancient customs . . . [using] these means to punish and persecute us for secret reasons because of our refusal to take part in secret and unchristian dances. . . . That liberty to practice one’s religion should be equal and not limited...

  11. SIX Religious Freedom and the Category of Religion into the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 237-266)

    Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Native American efforts to achieve religious freedom have been essential to a broader fight for cultural survival. Their struggles have involved pivotal concerns such as the right to use peyote in religious ceremonies, the repatriation of human remains and sacred objects held in museums, the use and ownership of sacred lands, and the (mis)use of Indian religious practices by non-Native spiritual seekers. But these campaigns have borne only limited success, and religious freedom for Native Americans remains an elusive goal.

    As in the dance controversy, dominant conceptions of religion are among the...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 267-304)
    (pp. 305-324)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 325-333)