Caila Sanford rushed to donate blood as she wiped tears from her eyes. She started reliving a nightmare after hearing about the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Sanford, 22, survived the mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas just a year ago, where a gunman killed 58 people.
“This really hits home for me. I can imagine what these people are going through. I’ve been to this bar many, many times. I love college nights,” Sanders said.
It was college night at the Borderline when a gunman entered and opened fire, killing 12 people and then himself.
The shooter was identified as Ian David Long, 28, a former military machine gunner. He apparently killed himself after Wednesday’s attack.
It was the second U.S. mass shooting to make recent headlines. An attack Oct. 27 at a Pittsburgh synagogue killed 11 people.
Researchers at the Gun Violence Archive said there has been a mass shooting in the United States nearly every day this year. The group defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are wounded or killed by gunfire, not including the shooter.
The frequency of mass shootings leaves some Americans numb.
“It doesn’t get easier to hear, but it gets more normalized. It’s desensitized completely,” Sanford said, adding, “I think twice about going anywhere, honestly. Not just here — the grocery store, the mall.”
Parents worry that not even schools are safe. In May, a mass shooting at a school in Santa Fe, Texas, left 10 dead.
“We are living in a state of fear within our own country, within our own borders, amongst ourselves,” said Grace Fisher, a mother of three young children.
Fisher went to the scene of the most recent shooting in Thousand Oaks with a sign that said, “Moms demand action for gun sense in America.”
She said U.S. society must find better ways to prevent such carnage.
“I think that the problem in this country is multifaceted. It’s going to take a multifaceted approach to solve this problem, but to say that guns are not the problem is a total cop-out,” Fisher said.
In addition to worrying about a test in school, students also have to think about an exit plan if they experience an active-shooter situation.
“Parents and teachers now have to have these conversations with kids who are in school. ‘What are you going to do if this happens? What is your plan? Where are you going to go?’ And they shouldn’t have to worry about that,” Sanford said. (VOA)
Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.
Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.
“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.
“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”
Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.
In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.
Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.
Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.
In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.
Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”
Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.
‘A beautiful ceremony’
Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.
“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”
Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.
“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.
Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.
“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”
She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.
“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”
In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.
“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.
In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”