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Until the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978, Native spiritual traditions were not recognized by the U.S. government as religions. Subsequent legislation has been passed to more clearly define and protect Native rights, but legal shortcomings remain when it comes to fully protecting Native religious freedoms, particularly with regard to sacred land.

In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that private, corporate, and governmental land holders' rights to own and develop land took precedent over Native religious freedoms regardless of the detrimental effects it could have on Native religious practices. Because many religious sites were taken from Native peoples in violation of treaties the U.S. held with tribes, today most sacred sites are not owned by the groups for whom they hold so much significance. Sites like Bear Butte and the Black Hills—where Mount Rushmore has been carved—are being destroyed and withheld from the Native communities that should rightfully have access to them.


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