Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Religious Studies, Joint Ph.D. Program in Study of Religion

First Advisor

Richard Clemmer-Smith, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Ved Nanda

Third Advisor

Antony Alumkal


Lakota community, Devils Tower, Sioux, Bear Lodge Multiple Use Assn v Babbitt 2 F. Supp. 2d 1448


This project analyzes a legal conflict (Bear Lodge Multiple Use Assn v Babbitt 2 F. Supp. 2d 1448) at Mato Tipila, a significant place for the Lakota (Sioux) community and with which they have a historical and longstanding relationship. Commercial and recreational rock-climbing enthusiasts who make use of it and the tourists who arrive in droves each year to visit, call this place Devils Tower. The case centered on whether the government violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by instituting a climbing ban during the month of June to accommodate Lakota ceremonial obligations. In recent historical developments, the conflict has been exclusively, and thus ineffectively, adjudicated through the eurochristian – albeit secularized – discourse of "rights." The cognitional categories used to define rights with respect to both natives and non-natives at this place are rooted in eurochristian culture and are for that reason inadequate to encompass the diversity of commitments at stake. The current state of human rights theory is deeply rooted in categories of possessive individualism and other related concepts that are alien to Lakota understandings of relationship and obligations at Mato Tipila. Using cognitive theory, I investigate the radical alterity that underscores ongoing tensions at this site.

A plan implemented by the National Park Service to promote "shared use" by different communities is inadequate. Framing the court case exclusively in terms of religious rights forces all participants to assimilate and articulate their positions in a constrained way that privileges a dominant way-of-being that is not only antithetical to the concerns of Native communities but has been imposed on Indigenous peoples since the 15th century.

At the heart of the conflict is an incommensurability, demonstrated by clashing perceptions about what this site means and how humans understand their relationship with it. Those with power to decide the outcomes on contested lands misconstrue that reality. Most importantly, I argue that the framework around accommodation and shared use profoundly disrupts Lakota memory and tradition even as it mobilizes the discourse of inclusion.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Wendy Anne Felese


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

285 p.


Native American studies, Comparative religion, Social research