AMERICAN Indians want Congress to guarantee federal protection for their sacred places and religious practices. The question is: Who is an Indian?
That dilemma has opened a fierce debate in the West and tied up legislation that's been in the works for at least three years.
Many Indian leaders, with the Clinton administration's backing, favor limiting protection to the nation's 545 federally recognized tribes to prevent exploitation by Indian impostors and New Age enthusiasts.
``Our religion is being exploited as it is,'' said Marge Anderson, chairman of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota. But such a stance would deny protection to native Hawaiians and hundreds of tribes in California and elsewhere.
The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii, calls that indefensible. ``The First Amendment ... does not say you have to be federally recognized [to practice religion] or you have to be a member of a religion that is federally recognized,'' he said.
Senator Inouye heads the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, through which the bill must pass.
His measure, the Native American Free Exercise of Religion Act, would require government agencies to show a compelling interest before disturbing areas where Indians worship or gather substances for ceremonies. The Forest Service and other agencies would have to follow specific procedures for notifying and consulting with interested Indians.
Tribes and government agencies have sparred over numerous sites in recent years, such as South Dakota's Black Hills, a holy place to the Sioux; a quarry in Minnesota where Indians obtain stone for ceremonial pipes; and Oregon's Mount Hood, where Columbia River Indians seek visions.
Other provisions of Inouye's bill would guarantee Indian prison inmates access to religious leaders and ceremonies and protect the sacramental use of peyote, a hallucinogen used in native American rites.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed last year, applied the ``compelling interest'' test to laws that limit the free exercise of religion. But it did not specify how that would apply to sacred sites, according to the Justice Department.
Missouri votes on riverboat gambling
IVAN WILLIAMS gazes out the window of his sandwich shop to the lazy Mississippi River a block away and dreams of new prosperity in Mark Twain's old hometown.
He looks toward a crumbling grain elevator, past the poster in his window that pleads: ``Vote YES for Riverboat Gambling.''
``I'm supporting riverboats because I want to see progress. In 1904, Hannibal's population was 18,000. In 1994, it's still 18,000,'' said Mr. Williams, who moved to town a year ago. ``Frankly, we need the revenues, we need the jobs.''
His poster is a small statement in a multimillion-dollar statewide refrain, that Missouri is losing dollars and jobs to neighboring Illinois's riverboats, and that the economic erosion will spread as other states expand gambling.
Missouri voters consider a gambling referendum tomorrow - for the second time. Amendment 3 would change the state constitution to legalize games of chance on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. In addition, residents of 15 cities and a half-dozen counties will decide whether to allow proposed floating casinos to dock along their riverbanks.
In 1992, state voters overwhelmingly approved a law legalizing riverboats, and the Legislature created a state agency to regulate waterways wagering, which began accepting license applications and fees. Cities and counties started making deals for elaborate riverfront developments, with the tab to be picked up by optimistic casino operators.
But this year, riverboat business lurched to a halt when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled essentially that games of chance are legal only through constitutional change, not mere law. Those games include slot machines, which casino operators say they must offer to be viable.
The Legislature rushed to send Amendment 3 to a statewide vote. And the riverboat industry, whose spokesmen said $170 million had already been spent in Missouri to develop boats and potential sites, began a vast advertising campaign.