Monday, January 31, 2011

Religious Freedom

In 1913, my great great grandfather Steven Moses (pictured above) once stood trial on the Spokane Reservation for continuing to practice traditional ceremonies. Court papers housed in the Probate Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Wellpinit state the following:

Record of Court of Indian Offenses
Defendants: Steve Moses, Jim Andrews, and Ben Moses.
Complaint: Running a medicine dance.
Plea: Not guilty.
Witnesses: None against.
John Inkster testified in their behalf.

Chief Jim Sam telephoned from Wellpinit that these parties were running a medicine dance at Walker’s Prairie; that they were the medicine men; that the Indians were giving away their property; that they confessed to Jim Sam; that Jim Sam would not appear at the agency for the trial, nor provide witnesses to prove his charge.

Finding of the court: Not Guilty.
Judge William Three Mountains
Superintendent Emery A. Peftly
At the Spokane Agency, January 20, 1913.

My great great grandfather was acquitted of all charges, not because he enjoyed the protection of religious freedom under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but simply because the prosecuting witness failed to appear. Even in recent times, American Indian spiritual practices have not always enjoyed the protection of law.

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