The state of Native American "rights" (fwd)

Robert Johnson (johnsorl@COLORADO.EDU)
Thu, 27 Jul 1995 21:26:20 -0600

from nativeweb. <al> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 27 Jul 1995 09:23:42 -0700
From: Peter P. d'Errico <>
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: lawsuit info up

Pls check out the pages at the URL shown in the attached notice...


Peter d'Errico voice: 413-545-2003
Legal Studies Department fax: 413-545-1640
University of Massachusetts/Amherst 01003
web page:


** INFORMATION RELEASE FOR INTERNET **** Thursday, July 27, 1995 **


A preliminary injunction in favor of the inmates has been issued in a
lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of inmates who are part of a Native
American Spiritual Awareness Council in a Massachusetts prison. The case
is Trapp, et al. v. DuBois, et al., Massachusetts Superior Court (Worcester,
Civil No. 95-0779).

On May 12, 1995, after a hearing on plaintiffs' motion for preliminary
injunction, the Court, Justice Diane Kottmyer presiding, issued an order
permitting the use of headbands along with other sacred items and
permitting inmate participation in the Native American Spiritual
Awareness Council subject only to the approval of "an outside spiritual
advisor or sachem."

The Council maintains a weekly Circle and other practices associated with
American Indian spirituality. Among their spiritual teachers are medicine
people in the area, including Slow Turtle and Medicine Story. The Circle
has been in existence at the prison for more than five years.

Plaintiffs' complaint alleges an ongoing pattern of substantial
discrimination against and burden upon their free exercise of religion,
willfully and maliciously imposed by various administrators of the prison
system. At one or another time, articles of spiritual significance (pipes,
headbands, drums, etc.) have been confiscated as contraband. Inmates
who are not members of federally "recognized tribes" have been told they
cannot participate in the Circle. The complaint is supported by affidavits
from the lead plaintiffs (Chief and Sub-Chief of the Council) and from
Slow Turtle.

The lawsuit states claims based on state and federal constitutions and
statutes, including the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. We
argue that prison administration knowingly violated religious freedom and
intimidated inmates who expressed an interest in Native American
spirituality. We also argue the beneficial effects of the Circle for inmates
and for the institution, in order to prove that these practices do not
threaten the security of the prison (one of the factors typically considered
by courts in such cases).

The case continues, as plaintiffs move to enforce the court's order
throughout the prison system and to prepare further motions preparatory
to trial, including a motion for a speedy trial. The trial docket of the
court is about three years backlogged.

Plaintiffs' attorneys are Peter d'Errico, William Norris , and Robert Doyle.
We are interested in hearing from anyone with information that may aid in
the presentation of the case.

We have made documents from the case available on the World-Wide Web at the
following URL:

To contact us directly:,

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