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Sam’s Town: Being a Minority in “AmeriKKKa” 2015

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By Kristen J. Simmons

Image by livenewscentral.com
Image by livenewscentral.com

 In post-wake of the racially motivated terrorist attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church,  America’s anti-black/brown sentiment has only driven a knife deeper into an already infected wound.  Weeks after the attack, the racist hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK, planned a rally on  South Carolina state grounds on Saturday, 18 July. For a group whose history is that of such a supremacist and hateful nature, it brings about a question of morals. Why is the KKK allowed to have  such gatherings in this “great land” that is a melting pot of cultures and ethnic backgrounds, a place of  supposed acceptance? The answer can be summed up from a simple line in the national anthem “For the  land of the free,” err… unless you’re black.

 Let me explain! Throughout America’s history, the gathering of a significant number of people of color  has been seen as a threat to society. Starting in 1966, the Black Panther Party thrived and delivered a message of ending police brutality and promoting black pride. It was followed by false notions

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spread by those in power afraid of strong and independent black people. The party was disabled in 1982 by the government under the false guise that the Black Panthers were a militant extremist group.

The question still remains: When will we begin calling out white people for their problematic behavior in the same manor we label black people and falsify their actions as violent? White America has proven to be very uncomfortable with the gathering of colored people. Why else would a pride group of African Americans be dismantled by the government while a supremacy group of Caucasians that have caused terror on minorities for decades be allowed to rally in public spaces?

Events like these are happening all across America on many different scales. Brown skinned Middle Easterners are discriminated against by prejudice and racist people who are paranoid about terrorism. In America the government has brainwashed us into thinking that terrorism has a color and a nationality that comes from the other side of this world. Meanwhile, actual terrorists born and raised in our own nation such as the Charleston shooter rarely ever carry the weight of such labels. It’s almost as if America has a hidden clause about what makes one a racist. CAUTION: MUST BE AT LEAST THIS DARK TO BE CONSIDERED A THREAT TO SOCIETY.

So what does it mean to be a brown or a black in 2015?

We are unreasonably feared and simultaneously envied, we are discriminated against and our culture is appropriated, we are under privileged but told that we live in a fair society

The light of recent events in America regarding race has shown that there is a lot of work to be done when it comes to racial equality. Black America and minorities of this nation alike have a lot of protesting, trials, and tears ahead.

Be prepared, be mindful, and stay woke!

Kristen is a native of Mississippi, USA and would be joining University of Illinois at Chicago this fall for her studies in Communications. 

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“They Don’t Make Prayerful Offerings When They Harvest,” Story Of The Native American Church

“The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

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The sun sets over the gateway of peyotera Amada Cardenas's house in Mirando City, Texas. Ironwork reflects core Native American Church values of faith, hope, love and charity. 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.

Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994.
Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994. VOA

“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.

Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico.
Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico. VOA

Pan-Native religion

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.

Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007.
Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007. VOA

‘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.

This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled "Cheyenne Peyote Leader." Courtesy: Library of Congress.
This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled “Cheyenne Peyote Leader.” Courtesy: Library of Congress. VOA

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.”

Sacred gardens

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.

The sun sets over "the 605," acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church.
The sun sets over “the 605,” acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church. VOA

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.”

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It is their hope that by 2021, “the 605” will house a nursery, residential and guest housing, and youth training, all supported by peyote sales.

“It’s about generations to come,” said Iron Rope. “To reconnect them to the land and to the medicine. And that’s the healing process that we’ve been missing.” (VOA)