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Democrats Decide Investigation Topics To Look Into Donald Trump

The Oversight and Reform committee will look at a host of other domestic issues, including the use by Trump daughter Ivanka Trump of a private email account

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Flags fly in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 1, 2019. VOA

When the Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, the new committee chairs said they would use their role of oversight to begin investigating the controversies and scandals regarding President Donald Trump’s businesses, campaign and administration.

Russia inquiry

*At least four House committees plan to look into aspects of the Russian election interference investigation — Intelligence, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, and Judiciary. However, none plan to reopen a full-scale investigation, since Democratic officials say special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is already doing that. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler says he will wait for Mueller to conclude his investigation before considering any possible impeachment inquiry.

The lines of questioning by the committees reflect their particular purview. For example, the Foreign Affairs Committee will look into what Trump said to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their private meeting last summer in Helsinki, Finland, while the Financial Services Committee plans to seek financial records relating to hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from Deutsche Bank to the Trump Organization.

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Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 24, 2017. VOA

Trump’s taxes

* Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal says he wants to try to build a public case for why Trump’s tax returns should become public before he makes any formal request for the returns to be released. He says he will hold hearings on the matter and will propose legislation that would require all presidents and candidates for the office to make their returns public. If Neal does request the tax returns from the Treasury Department, he has the authority under the tax code to be granted them as chairman of a House committee, however it is not clear if the Trump administration would challenge the matter.

Immigration policies

* Top Democrats have made clear they want to investigate the Trump administration’s immigration policies, with several committees planning to look into the matter of family separations and detentions at the border.

* The House Judiciary Committee plans to investigate the recent deaths of two migrant children held in detention — Jakelin Caal, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8. Three committees have ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection to preserve evidence related to their deaths.

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A man looks at a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump shaking hands before their meeting in Singapore, in Tokyo, June 12, 2018. VOA

Foreign issues

* In addition to Russia, the Foreign Affairs Committee plans to investigate issues involving several countries, including North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Syria. The committee plans to look at Trump’s relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as well as his family’s close ties with the Saudi crown prince.

* It also wants answers to why Trump abruptly announced in December the withdrawal of 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria, which led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

* The new chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, says he plans to create an entire subcommittee devoted to investigating Trump.

Domestic issues

* The House Judiciary Committee wants to look into Trump’s decision to fire former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and what his acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker knew about the decision.

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President Donald Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in New Orleans, Jan. 14, 2019. VOA

* It also wants to investigate Trump’s involvement in payments before his 2016 election to two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump, a possible campaign finance violation.

Also Read: FBI Probes Into Donald Trump’s Relationship With Russia

* The Oversight and Reform committee will look at a host of other domestic issues, including the use by Trump daughter Ivanka Trump of a private email account for government business, the Trump administration’s response to hurricanes Irma and Maria, and some Trump Cabinet officials’ use of government jets for personal travels. (VOA)

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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.”

Also Read: Practice What You Preach: Celebrities Should Stand By Their Public Image In Private Domain

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)