I’ve got to say, as someone who practices, and advocates for the rights of, an ethno-tribal religion, I am very jealous of the status of Amerindians when it comes to their group identity and religious practices. After all, they have the full weight of the United States federal government on their side. Take, for example, the case of Sioleski v. Capra et al.
This (I almost hesitate to use the word) “person” was convicted of throwing acid in his step-daughter’s face because he thought her mother had damaged his car, and to this day she fears that he will come after her if he makes parole. He recently sued because Sing-Sing prison wouldn’t let him have a “Cherokee mullet” (is that even a thing?).
But last week the court dismissed the case, and I’m not a lawyer, but it would seem to be because he hadn’t appealed the prison’s decision that he wasn’t Cherokee, and without exhausting all his options, he couldn’t sue:
“plaintiff has not appealed to CORC any grievance regarding defendant Capra’s failure to enroll plaintiff in the Native American religious community while incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility…. In fact, the CORC appeal list indicates that plaintiff has not appealed to CORC any grievances filed at Sing Sing.”
The facts of the case and his suit notwithstanding, what I find fascinating about this whole affair is the fact that the state of New York is apparently able to decide who can, and cannot, practice Amerindian religion, based on tribal membership. In the specific case of the Cherokee, they apparently go entirely based on genealogical records rather than blood tests, but membership in the tribe, and access to Cherokee religious rites, is still based on ancestry, and enforced by the federal government, at least in prison.
Which brings up an interesting question. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if someone of obvious non-European ancestry requested to be allowed to participate in Asatru rituals. Asatru is recognized as a real faith by the federal bureau of prisons, and thus they control who can, and cannot, practice it while in Federal custody. They’re apparently quite assiduous about making sure that Amerindian religions are only practiced by people of Amerindian descent.
Of course, being in prison isn’t a good thing by any stretch. But even felons have the government on their side when it comes to certain tribal religions. Must be nice to have the boundaries of one’s ethno-tribal religion protected by force of law, even within a Federal penitentiary.