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American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978)

What It Is

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) became law on August 11, 1978 to “protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”

Why It Matters

From its beginnings, NPS Heritage Preservation Services and the NPS Park Ethnography Program have had a major role in fulfilling AIRFA federal policy. Regional and park ethnographers assist in educating the public about appropriate behavior in relation to American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiian sacred sites, and use and possession of sacred objects.

In the 1990s, Congress enacted two additional preservation laws: the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act that help preserve the cultural patrimony of American Indians and protects the subsistence way of life of rural Alaskan residents, many of whom were indigenous people.

Additional Information

Full text of PUBLIC LAW 103-344 [H.R. 4230]; October 6, 1994 (pdf)

Reflection

  • What resources in your park have cultural significance to Native Americans? How are your park and the affiliated tribes working to protect those resources?

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