Native Peoples’ Traditions

Because of the artificiality of the U.S./Canadian border for many Native American peoples, some Canadian dates have also been included here.

11,000 BCE Settlement of Lindenmeier Site (Colorado)

Though archaeologists disagree over the dating of the first settling of North America, a nomadic campsite in present-day Colorado provides the first solidly datable evidence of the presence of Native American peoples.

3,111 BCE Earliest Date in Mayan Calendar

Though it is unknown what happened on this date, its fixture as the oldest date in the calendar of the Mayan peoples of Meso-America indicates the sophistication of their astronomical knowledge and related methods of measuring time.

1,500 BCE Diverse Adaptations to Local Environments

By this date, most Native North American societies had developed remarkably diverse cultures in adaptation to the differing environments in which they lived. Pottery making, horticulture, village communities, ceremonial structures, trade, and weaving can all be found among certain societies at this time.

1,400 BCE Planned Communities of Mississippian Cultures

A massive semicircle of concentric mounds at Louisiana’s Poverty Point site provides the earliest evidence of large scale communities of what are known as Mississippian cultures.

1,000 BCE Maize Domesticated in North America

Through trade networks that linked them to Meso-American societies, Native peoples of the southwestern U.S. had by this date fully integrated domesticated maize into their economic and ceremonial lives.

500 BCE Domestic Beans Make First Appearance

Through trade links with societies to the south, the agricultural production of beans emerged among Natives of the American Southwest.

500 BCE – 500 CE Serpent Mound

A mound between three and twenty feet high and 1,254 feet long represents the winding figure of a serpent. Built by people of what archaeologists call the Adena or Hopewell culture, this mound has inspired countless myths.

700 – 1,000 CE Anasazi Communities Engaged in Trade

Underground pithouses enabled food storage and more concentrated settlement. Apartment buildings with as many as 1,200 rooms were supported by extensive trade networks and food storage in pithouses. The underground pithouses later evolved into kivas, ceremonial structures in use to this day among the various Pueblo peoples of the southwest.

750 CE Centralized Urban Settlement

Archeologists date the Range Site in southern Illinois as among the earliest centralized urban settlements planned around a public plaza, a design made possible by large scale storage of food and a hierarchical social organization.

900 CE Athapaskan Migrations

Athapaskan-speaking Navajo and Apache communities migrated from the interior of Alaska down along the Rockies into what is now the southwestern U.S., displaying social and cultural adaptation to their new environment.

900 CE Beginnings of Hohokam Culture in Southwestern U.S.

Sites show evidence of extensive trade and cultural exchange with Meso-American societies, as well as aboveground adobe dwellings, some as high as four stories. Extensive irrigation and canal systems made sophisticated agriculture possible in a semi-arid environment.

1050 – 1250 CE Major Urban Center at Cahokia Site

As many as 30,000 lived at this major trading and ceremonial center in Illinois. More than one hundred mounds of earth are found at this site, Monk’s Mound being the largest earthworks construction north of Mexico.

1300 CE Deganawida Founds Iroquois Confederacy

The spiritual and political vision known as the Great Law of Peace came to this Huron spiritual leader, and he joined with Hiawatha to bring together the Iroquoian nations of the Eastern Great Lakes into an enduring political and spiritual alliance.

1492 CE Columbus’ First Voyage

In October, Columbus arrived on an island of the Bahamas. Two years later, he returned and enslaved nearly 500 Taino people native to the Caribbean Islands.

1512 CE Vatican Deems Native Americans Part of Human Family

A decree from Pope Julius II found that Native peoples of the Americas were indeed descended from Adam and Eve. The Spanish Laws of Burgos placed “restrictions” on enslavement of Native Americans: only after the Christian creation story and the doctrine of salvation through the church had been read to Natives and the opportunity to convert extended could Native people be lawfully invaded and enslaved.

1550 CE Public Debate About Enslavement

Bernardo de las Casas and Juan de Sepulveda staged a highly public debate in Europe about the morality of enslaving peoples native to “New Spain.” At issue was in what manner these Native people should be considered human.

1600 CE French Settlement and Jesuit Mission at Tadoussac

This mission was the vanguard of Catholic missionization of Native people in the Northeast.

1613 CE Pocahontas

This daughter of Native leader Powhatan learned English, married a Christian settler, and mediated between English settlers and her father’s people. She later died of a disease acquired while touring Europe.

1615 CE Certain Algonquian-Language Peoples Migrate West

Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi began migrating westward from the maritimes and northern New England both as a result of the expansion of the fur trade and in response to spiritual messages.

1642 CE Mission in New England

Puritan John Eliot converted Native communities at Newton (Nonantum) and translated the New Testament into their language.

1650 CE Emergence of Catawba People in Carolinas

Transformations stemming from European trade, disease, and established patterns of intertribal social, cultural, and ceremonial exchange gave rise to a new cultural identity for the Catawba people. Similar “ethno-genesis” transformed the social and cultural organization of other peoples in the Southeast and Northeast.

1675 CE King Philip’s War

Philip Sachem of the Wampanoags led his people in arms against the English settlers. The bloodshed became a lens through which Anglo-American settlers began to see “hostile” Indians.

1680 CE Pueblo Revolts

Pueblo communities in what is now New Mexico staged a successful revolt and drove Spanish colonists and Franciscan missionaries from the upper Rio Grande valley for eleven years. Another, less successful revolt in 1696 was the last of Pueblo military action.

1741 CE Russians Establish Interests in Alaska

Under Peter the Great, Russia established its fur trading interests in Alaska, building the first permanent settlement in 1784. Ten Russian Orthodox monks were sent to establish a mission to the Tlingit people.

1762 CE The Prophetic Resistance Movement of the Delaware Prophet

The Delaware Prophet preached a message of cultural renewal, inter-tribal alliance, and support for Pontiac’s War, an armed resistance to the advancement of Anglo-American settlers west of the Appalachians.

1769 CE San Diego Mission founded

Franciscan Friars established this first of twenty-one agrarian, military, and religious settlements in California.

1774 CE Samson Occum Translates Collection of Hymns

This Mohegan convert and Congregational minister published his Choice Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs in his Native language.

1775 CE Cheyenne Receive Sacred Law

Cheyenne prophet Sweet Medicine received a vision at Bear Butte, in what is today South Dakota; in this vision, the Cheyenne were given their Sacred Law and Sacred Bundle.

1785 CE Vision of Kenekuk

Kenekuk was a Kickapoo prophet and leader of an inter-tribal community of refugees from the Kickapoos, Potawatomis, and other peoples of the contemporary midwestern states of Southern Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. His message called for the abandonment of alcohol, and advocated friendly relations with European settlers.

1787 CE Northwest Ordinance

In its prescriptions for frontier dealings, the newly formed United States affirmed the status of Native tribes as sovereign nations and recognized a government-to-government relationship with them. The Ordinance reads: “Land or property shall never be taken from them without their consent, and in their property, rights and liberty they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress.”

1794 CE U.S. Treaty with Six Nations of Iroquois

The recently founded United States made an agreement with the people native to upstate New York and Pennsylvania that confirmed previous agreements with the British, and secured reservation lands for a lump sum payment valued at $10,000 and an annuity of $4,500 in perpetuity.

1799 CE First Vision of Handsome Lake

The Seneca prophet and founder/revitalizer of the Handsome Lake or Longhouse Religion had the first of a series of visions by which he charted a course of spiritual, economic, and political revitalization. In the 1830s, the community gathered around his teachings organized as the Handsome Lake Church.

1805 CE Message of Munsee Prophetess

A woman prophetic leader in an inter-tribal village of refugees in Indiana revised the message of the Delaware Prophet’s Bighouse religious tradition. Her vision called for the return to tradition, and the rejection of farming, Christianity, trade, and European clothing.

1806 – 1809 CE Tecumseh’s Rebellion

Tecumseh and his brother, a Shawnee prophet named Tenskwatawa, worked hard to forge a united spiritual, military, and political alliance among Native peoples from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The Shawnee Prophet’s message, or “The Way,” called upon followers gathered in Prophetstown, an inter-tribal community of Native people in Ohio, to reject European dress and customs and to fight for the preservation of their lands and communities. Though ultimately unsuccessful in its goal, the movement showed the close workings of Native political and military resistance and its common grounding in a charismatic spiritual message.

1815 CE Smohalla’s Vision

A prophet among his Wanapum people of the upper Columbia River founded what came to be called the “Dreamer Religion” or “Indian Shaker Religion,” based on a message calling for the purification of Native traditions from European elements, and outright resistance to missions and the U.S. Government.

1819 CE U.S. Civilization Fund Established

Congress passed legislation and appropriated tax moneys for the support of “civilizing” and educational programs among Native American nations, including the work of Christian missions.

1821 CE Cherokee Leader Sequoyah Establishes Cherokee Alphabet

Son of a Cherokee mother and French trader father, Sequoyah established a phonetic Cherokee writing system. Because many Cherokee learned to read their own language, Bibles, books and even a weekly newspaper contained a distinctive Cherokee approach to literacy, schooling, and the Christian message.

1824 CE U.S. Establishes Indian Office in Military

The U.S. Indian Bureau was created within the War Department to manage Indian Affairs.

1830 CE Indian Removal Act

Congress enabled the U.S. to provide lands west of the Mississippi to Indian tribes who agreed under pressure to leave ancestral lands east of the Mississippi.

1831 CE Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

In this landmark case for the balance of powers in the U.S. government, the Supreme Court under John Marshall chose not to hear the Cherokee suit claiming exemption from the laws of Georgia. Marshall’s decision interpreted the status of Indian tribes as “domestic dependent nations” rather than “foreign nations” as they are called in the Constitution.

1832 CE Worcester v. Georgia

In this decision, the Supreme Court under John Marshall ruled in favor of a Protestant missionary engaged in an act of civil disobedience against the State of Georgia, which had ordered the removal of Cherokees and Creeks from their Native lands. The Court decided that the Cherokee Nation was not subject to the jurisdiction of the state. In what became an important milestone in the negotiation of the balance of powers within the federal government, the administration of Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the Marshall Court’s decision.

1839 CE The Trail of Tears

Beginning in 1838, federal troops rounded up the Cherokee and other peoples of the southeast for removal to Indian Territory in what later became the state of Oklahoma. Four thousand, or one fourth the Cherokee population, died on what the Cherokees called “the Trail where they cried.”

1848 CE Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

After war with Spain and its Mexican colony, the United States obtained nearly half of Spanish North America. Native peoples of the “Southwest” were subjected to U.S. Indian policies.

1850 – 1880 CE Genocide in California

In an example of a brutal genocide that occurred throughout North America, California’s Native population plummeted from 100,000 in 1850 to 16,000 in thirty short years of mining, settler aggression, and related famine and disease.

1854 CE Reservation Period Begins

The U.S. replaced its official policy of Indian removal with one that established reservations in subsequent treaties.

1854 CE Federation of Five Civilized Tribes

The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole peoples of the southeastern United States (though largely removed to Indian Territory in Oklahoma) consolidated to better represent their interests.

1857 CE “An Act for Gradual Civilization”

This was Canada’s first attempt to enforce cultural and educational assimilation of Native peoples into the Canadian mainstream.

1862 CE Kickapoo Emigration to Mexico

Two bands of the Kickapoo nation left their reservations in Kansas for northern Mexico, seeking better treatment at the hands of the Mexican government.

1864 CE Sand Creek Massacre

The Colorado governor and a former missionary, Colonel John Chivington, led an unprovoked attack on a peaceful encampment of Cheyenne women, children, and men. Five hundred were victims of the carnage, which led to a public outcry.

1868 CE Treaty of Fort Laramie

The U.S. and Lakota Sioux agreed to set aside extensive lands in present day South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska for Plains Peoples, including the sacred land of the Black Hills. Any future land cessions were to require the consent of three-fourths of Lakota Sioux adult males.

1869 CE President Grant’s “Peace Policy”

Under pressure from reformers who argued in favor of Native peoples’ capacity to become educated, civilized and hence no serious threat to American society, Ulysses Grant ordered a reorganization of Indian policy and administration to encourage assimilation. To combat corruption, the President granted supervision of Indian affairs to denominational leaders. Within several years an entire network of Indian agencies, treaty payments, and mission fields was allocated to the supervision of various denominations.

1871 CE Massive Slaughter of Buffalo

In just two months, Euro-American sport hunters killed over one-quarter million buffalo on the Great Plains. Between 1870 and 1885, this fashionable sport, made possible by the building of the transcontinental railroads, saw to the slaughter of more than ten million buffalo. Because the buffalo had been integral to the life-ways of Plains peoples, the near extinction of the buffalo was devastating, both materially and spiritually.

1871 CE End of U.S. Treaty Making Era

The era of treaty making came to an official end. (From this time on, Indian affairs were to be based on Congress’ “plenary power” to legislate, not by inter-national agreement).

1876 CE Canada’s Indian Act

Through this legislation, Canada asserted control over all areas of the life of Native communities. The Iroquois communities at Oshweken, Akwesasne, and elsewhere resisted the imposition of alien governmental structures and were put down by force.

1877 CE The Black Hills

Superseding the Treaty of Fort Laramie, made just nine years earlier with the Lakota Sioux, the U.S. confiscated the land of the Black Hills. A gold strike had drawn many non-Native settlers into this most sacred land of the Lakota.

1879 CE The Carlisle Indian School Founded

Richard Pratt founded this famous boarding school in Pennsylvania, where Native people from throughout the United States were to be “broken” of their distinctive languages and cultures and assimilated to Euro-American ways. By 1887, more than 10,000 Native students were drawn away from their communities and placed in the boarding school system.

1885 CE The Northwest Rebellion

The Metis, traditionally said to be Chippewa and French, had been led by Louis Riel since the late 1860s. Riel tried to declare an independent nation on the plains of Canada. His rebellion was finally put down in 1885, and Louis Riel was hanged.

1887 CE Dawes Act Breaks up Communal Ownership of Tribal Land

In a step crucial to the policy of assimilation, Congress legislated that tribal lands on reservations were to be subdivided and allocated privately to male Indian heads of families. Holding private property was believed to promote “civilization.” This policy opened up unallotted lands, and eventually allotted lands, to non-Indian purchase and settlement.

1889 CE Expansion of Boarding School System

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs stated guidelines for Indian education, advocating compulsory and assimilative education, expansion of the boarding school system, and the role of missionaries in nurturing assimilated Indian individuals. Several years earlier, a blanket policy of English language training in government schools had been brought to bear.

1870 CE First Ghost Dance

A Paiute prophet named Wodziwob had a vision, in which he saw the dead resurrected, the game returned in their former numbers, and traditional Native lifeways restored. The music and dance that would bring the envisioned restoration became known as The Ghost Dance. It spread rapidly among the Paiute’s neighbors in the Great Basin and Northern California. The more widespread second Ghost Dance emerged some twenty years later.

1870 – 1890 CE Public Expression of Native Religious Traditions Discouraged

Traditional Native ceremonies, music, dances, and other public forms of religious expression were aggressively discouraged in this period of assimilation. Under the reservation system, access to treaty payments, philanthropy, food, clothing, and advocacy before the U.S. government often hinged on the discretion of Indian agents and missionaries in charge. This was so “effective” that official legislation was often unnecessary to effectively outlaw public expression of Native traditions. Many of the ceremonies, songs, and dances, went “underground” and were kept secret from anthropologists and missionaries, sometimes leading to the impression that they had disappeared.

1870 – 1890 CE The Expansion of the Peyote Road

A religious movement oriented toward the sacramental ingestion of the hallucinogenic peyote cactus button and involving many Christian moral and spiritual teachings spread from the Native communities of northern Mexico northwards to the Comanches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos of the southern Great Plains.

1889 – 1890 CE Second Ghost Dance Spreads Across Plains

The second Ghost Dance movement, again initiated by a Paiute prophet’s vision of restored Native prosperity, spread like wildfire eastward throughout the Plains, particularly among the Lakota, who had been decimated by the disappearance of the buffalo and their land base. The vision of the prophet Wovoka showed him the return of the dead and of disappeared game, and a lasting peace with non-Indians. Wovoka also taught a round dance thought to accelerate the realization of this vision.

1890 CE Wounded Knee Massacre

Believing Ghost Dancers to be inciting an armed rebellion, the U.S. army fired machine guns on an encampment of 200 Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

1899 CE First Law Prohibiting Peyote Use

The Oklahoma Territorial Legislature prohibited the practice of the peyote religion with threats of fines and six months in prison.

1906 CE Burke Act

Congress authorized Native people to alienate the lands allotted to them under the Dawes Act. Speculators, timber and mining companies, and settlers took advantage of the desperate poverty of many Native people to obtain land well below market value. The land base under Indian control shrank dramatically.

1918 CE Native American Church of Jesus Christ Established

To help protect the religious lifeway of the Peyote tradition under the First Amendment, the Native American Church was incorporated, and leadership identified.

1924 CE Indian Citizenship Act

Congress bestowed citizenship on all Native people born in the U.S. who had not yet been declared citizens as a result of other policies.

1928 CE The Merriam Report Identifies Crisis in Native America

The published report of a commission led by Lewis Merriam called attention to the desperate conditions experienced throughout Indian country and pronounced the failure of U.S. assimilation policies.

1934 CE The “Indian New Deal”

With passage of the Indian Reorganization Act and other related legislation, Congress formally closed the period of assimilation policy, and initiated the formation of federally recognized tribal governments, whose constitutions and leadership structures were subject to Bureau of Indian Affairs review.

1934 CE The “Indian New Deal” and Religious Freedom

The Secretary of the Interior approved the Indian Commissioner’s reversal of the assimilation policies’ effective control of public religious expression on Indian reservations. A directive entitled “Indian Religious Freedom and Indian Culture” prohibited federal interference in Native American religious practices.

1946 CE Indian Claims Commission Created

In an effort to award settlements and put open claims to rest, Congress created the Indian Claims Commission to adjudicate the treaty claims of Native nations for the return of stolen and sacred lands and/or for compensation. The act ushered in a forty year period of litigation and deliberation.

1950s-60s CE Native Political Activism in Canada

In response to the failure of the Canadian government to protect them against the loss of land, environmental catastrophes, and the erosion of other rights, Canada’s First Peoples increasingly demanded sovereignty and self-determination.

1953 CE Termination Policy

A Congressional resolution called for the dissolution of special trust relationships between Native tribes and the U.S. government. In 1954, the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin agreed to the termination of their status as a federally recognized Indian tribe and then fought for twenty years before the trust relationship was re-established.

1954 CE Relocation Policy

Rather than prioritize the development of reservation economies, the Bureau of Indian Affairs created a massive incentive program designed to bring Native people to fuller employment in urban centers. With time, this policy shifted the U.S. Native population significantly from reservations to establish a roughly even balance between reservations and cities. Between 1958 and 1968 more than 200,000 Native Americans migrated to the nation’s cities.

1958 CE Federated Indian Tribes Organize in Los Angeles

Members of Los Angeles’s growing urban Native community organized to provide a center where a social and cultural atmosphere like that of the reservations could be experienced.

1959 CE Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal Council

A U.S. Circuit court held that the First Amendment does not protect the right to practice the Peyote Religion when a tribal council’s ordinance prohibits the use of peyote. Many Navajos considered the Native American Church antithetical to their own traditions.

1959 CE Iroquois “Traditionalists” Protest Tribal Government

Led by Mad Bear Anderson, 1,300 supporters of the traditional governmental system of the Iroquois confederacy and its hereditary chiefs staged a protest against the policies of the federally recognized tribal government, effectively a creation of the Indian Reorganization Act.

1959 CE Hopi Elders at U.N.

A group of Hopi Elders related and interpreted Hopi prophecies to interested United Nations officials.

1961 CE National Indian Youth Council Established

Clyde Warrior and Melvin Thom formed a national Native American advocacy group in response to what they saw as an ineffective Indian advocacy “establishment” of Christian denominations, the National Congress of American Indians (comprised primarily of leaders of recognized tribal governments), and the Indian Rights Association.

1963 CE The Native American Movement

In league with other contemporary civil rights movements, the Native American movement called for the use of the term “Native American” instead of “American Indian” and tried to create unity among peoples of Native heritage throughout the Americas.

1968 CE Indian Civil Rights Act

Congress mandated that U.S. civil rights law applied to Native people on reservations in their dealings with tribal governments. Some tribal governments fought the legislation as an infringement on their sovereignty.

1968 CE American Indian Movement (AIM) Founded

Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, and Mary Jane Wilson formed an activist group to protect Native people, especially urban Native people, from police harassment and other forms of racism.

1969 CE Alcatraz Takeover

A group of Native activists occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, offering to purchase it for $24 worth of glass beads and red cloth. The occupation lasted several years, with as many as 400 activists encamped at the former prison site. During the occupation, the activists established an ecology center and a Native American university, called D-Q University (D for Deganawida, the founder of the Iroquois Confederacy, and Q for Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec god).

1969 CE Navajo Community College Founded

The Navajo nation created the first tribally controlled institution of higher education.

1970 CE Return of Blue Lake Lands

The Nixon administration returned lands surrounding Blue Lake, a sacred site for the people of Taos, to New Mexico’s Taos pueblo.

1971 CE Establishment of the Native American Rights Fund

The Fund, or NARF, was created in Boulder, Colorado to spearhead legal battles for treaty, land, and religious freedom rights.

1973 CE Wounded Knee Takeover

Members of the American Indian Movement staged an armed takeover of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the site of an 1890 massacre of 200 Lakota women, children, and men involved with the peaceful Ghost Dance movement.

1975 CE Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act

In a reversal of the trend set by the termination and relocation policies of the 1950s, Congress expanded the scope of tribal government sovereignty, enabling tribes to contract with the U.S. to provide education and other services for themselves.

1975 CE The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement

In exchange for cash, massive tracts of traditional Cree hunting territory were flooded and altered by Hydro-Quebec, a provincially owned utility, for a mammoth hydroelectric development project. Traditional lifeways were drastically displaced. The second phase of the project is currently being resisted by the Crees and Innus.

1978 CE American Indian Religious Freedom Act

A joint Congressional resolution committed agencies of the U.S. to evaluate their policies in light of their potential impact on the religious activities of Native peoples. Critics argue that the resolution contains no “teeth” and that the policy defines the scope of Native religious traditions too narrowly.

1980 CE Proposed Compensation for Black Hills

The Indian Claims Commission awarded the Sioux Nation $100 million as due compensation and interest for the illegal seizure of the Black Hills in 1877. After heated debate, the Sioux tribal government refused the settlement of its treaty claims to the Black Hills. The case remains unresolved.

1988 CE The Lyng Decision

In Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service in its plan to construct a logging access road that cut across burial lands sacred to the Yurok, Karok and Tolowa Indians near Mt. Shasta in California.

1990 CE Oregon Employment Division v. Smith

Setting broad church-state precedent, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the state of Oregon’s denial of unemployment benefits to two Native American chemical abuse counselors fired for their participation in the peyote rites of the Native American Church.

1990 CE Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

Congress mandated the return of certain items to Native American peoples and established rules to govern future excavations of burial sites. Involved are human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and items that have “cultural patrimony,” historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to a Native culture. The remains of an estimated 300,000 to 2.5 million Native people are in public and private collections.

1990 CE Mohawk confrontation, Canada

The Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Quebec provincial police were called in to crush a Mohawk protest against the taking of a traditional burial ground on disputed land for the expansion of a golf course.

1990 CE U.S. Census and the American Indian Population

The 1990 U.S. Census reported a rise in the American Indian population to 1,873,536 people. The largest concentrations are in Oklahoma, California, Arizona, Alaska, New Mexico, Washington, and North Carolina.

1996 CE President Clinton’s Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites

On May 24, 1996, President Bill Clinton issued an Executive Order requiring executive agencies to allow Native Americans access to sacred sites, including for purposes of ritual.

1999 CE Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians

In this landmark victory for Native Americans, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ojibwe (Chippewa) tribe from the Great Lakes region retained rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the land that had been ceded to the American federal government in 1837.

1999 CE Bear Lodge Multiple Use Association v. Babbitt

This case, which concerned the land to which some Native American traditions attribute the story of the Seven Sisters and their ascent to the sky, drew into question to what extent access to designated sacred land within a space overseen by the National Park Service should be prohibited to recreational tourists. The designation of Native American spiritual traditions as “religious” versus “cultural,” and thereby the extent to which they were protected under the First Amendment, was also debated.

2000 CE Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act

The passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000 gave privileges to owners of land used for religious purposes, stating that the government could not implement regulations to land in the event that those regulations burdened religious exercise.

2010 CE Federal Court Rules No Punishment for Native American Boy’s Traditional Braids

A federal court ruling decided that a school district in Texas could not punish a Native American kindergarten boy for wearing traditional braids in his hair, which were an expression of the religious beliefs of the child’s family.

2010 CE Cape Wind Turbine Controversy

Plans to construct a wind farm, known as Cape Wind, to be built offshore at Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts, were stalled when two Native American tribes expressed their opposition to the project on the basis that it would be destructive to a site sacred to them. Representatives of the Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod and the Aquinnah Wampanoag of Martha’s Vineyard claimed that the proposed wind turbines would obstruct their eastern view of the sound, which was integral to their spiritual and cultural traditions. In addition, the tribes feared that the construction could impede upon the sacred burial ground of their ancestors. Despite large financial settlements offered by developers, the tribes were not willing to compromise their spiritual landscape, and continued to threaten legal action.