Indigenous Peoples and Freedom of Religion

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues logoOn May 22, 2013 I attended a side event of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues entitled “Indigenous Peoples and Freedom of Religion.” Speakers included individuals who are members of various tribes such as the Apaches and Sand Hill Indians but individuals from NGOs also participated. People from all walks of life came to educate themselves on the issues that indigenous peoples face and what are the possible solutions to address these issues.

Three key speakers served on the indigenous peoples’ panel:  Roberto Mukaro Borrero, Chief Ronald Yonaguska Holloway, and Steven Gonzales. Mr. Borrero is a consultant for the International Indian Treaty Council and chairperson of an NGO committee in relation to the UN’s International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Mr. Holloway is a principal (blood) chief of the Sand Hill Indians who holds degree in business, a doctorate in religion, and is former police officer. Mr. Gonzales is a professor of constitutional law and co- founder of the Phoenix School of Law

What I didn’t realize until I heard the panelists and moderators speak was that there seems to be such animosity against the concept of religion and involvement within American politics. These topics sparked interest, with participants asking questions such as “What is religion? I don’t really know what that is.” She did not mean that she has a lack of understanding as to what the definition of religion is, but she wonders what religion truly involves. Other questions included, “Does following one religion mean your practice is superior to another? What are the reasons for their being so many different religions?” It seemed that the community believed that the non- indigenous are concerned with only one goal: bettering oneself and not looking at the larger picture of how indigenous peoples as well as other peoples can make this world a better place for generations to come. But through all the tension and conflict, one thing was clear” the commitment to make society better. There was a feeling that one way to improve American society is to include indigenous values which values acceptance of women being in power and appreciation for nature, among other factors.

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