- Issues in the Implementation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act:Panel Discussion
Introduction by Wallace Coffey
I would like to acknowledge all of our friends and relatives who have taken time to come and be with us. One of my good friends and colleagues and a former attorney for our Comanche tribe is here, Glen Feldman, and I know that he worked tremendously hard on the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, many times in the years back, and that's why we are going to discuss today the issues with regard to the implementation of the AIRFA. But I wanted to share with you that right after we conclude this panel, I'm going to call on my brother over there from the Ho-Chunk Nation to do a prayer and a short ceremony for Arvol Looking Horse. He just got a call that his mother is going into the hospital for back surgery. They were planning on leaving this conference and taking her up into Canada so she can participate in a ceremony, a healing ceremony, but unfortunately she had to be taken into the hospital on an emergency basis, so as Indian people, we always take time and we pray—pray to the spirits of our ancestors and through our loved ones that they will watch over and comfort his mom while she is going through this serious operation on her back. And to those of you who still have your parents, I wish you the best. I hope you have your parents—your moms and dads—for a long time. This past August, I lost my mom. Ninety-five years of age, and I'm very fortunate to have had my mother that length of time. But my greatest inspiration has [End Page 153] always been that one loved one, someone that has always inspired us, made us feel good about who we are. So today, you will see these individuals, and I know that there has always been that one special person that has inspired these individuals to maintain these convictions that they hold and to fight and to ensure that maybe with some breath of air, maybe some ray of light, we can find hope for the issues in the implementation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. And again, I want to apologize on behalf of Kevin Gover, my nephew, who unfortunately had to be in a different location today because of the legal issue. But I want to say thank you to these individuals, Walter Echo-Hawk, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado; Mario Gonzalez, one of the premier attorneys way back in time when there was no such thing as Indian law; Len Foster, who has devoted his entire life to recovery to improve the life of his relatives and family members on the Navajo Nation; Alan Parker, whom I first got to know when I was the director of the Nebraska Indian Commission in Lincoln, Nebraska, and who at one time, in Washington, DC, worked for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Bunky (Walter Echo-Hawk), would you please begin this session. We're going to give each and every one of you a chance to give an overview from your perspective, and we'll have each and every one of you give a comment with regard to something they may have overlooked, and then we're going to ask questions from members of the audience, so Bunky, if you would, please.
It's very timely for Arizona State University to host this acknowledgment of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. AIRFA was passed twenty-five years ago. It's been one generation since that historic federal statute was enacted into law. It's important to take stock now to see how far we've come in protecting Native American religious liberty in the United States and to see where we go from here.
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act is a historic landmark statute. For the first time Congress formally acknowledged, in the"whereas" clauses of AIRFA, that...