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Race as a tool to keep people Divided: Will Science break the Shackles?

Race as a concept has been used by humans to divide and create divisions among us for deriving economical and political gains.

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Race: Are We So Different at Chicago History Museum
Race is still a big deal in USA and other parts of the World. Pic by Dr. Munish Raizada taken at the Race exhibition at Chicago History Museum. November 2017

Chicago:

Last week I along with my family went to see an exhibit on Race that is being currently held at Chicago History Museum until July 2018. Developed by American Anthropological Association (AAA), theme of the exhibit is: “Race: Are We So Different?”

The answer is: No, we are not!

There is only one human race, and that is Homo Sapiens.

There are no sub-races in humans. We all humans constitute one race, despite the differences in our colors and contours, morphological features. The latter are largely explained by science.

However, it goes with out saying that Race as a concept has been used  by us to divide and create divisions among us for deriving economical and political gains. In the name of superior Vs inferior race, people have been subjugated, persecuted and killed. History tells us that, genocides have been carried out, citing the basis of race.

Whereas science and anthropological studies have solidified that we the current or Modern human species (Homo sapiens) are all descendants of our forefathers originating from Africa. Evidence shows that about 60,000 years ago, some of our African ancestors (therefore Blacks) started spreading out to other parts of world. Some reached Asia (including India) and others of course to Eurasia and the current Western hemisphere.This implies that we all form one race, called Human Race.

Exhibition on Race at Chicago History Museum
We might look different, but are we so different? This is the theme of the exhibit on Race being held at Chicago History Museum. Pic taken by Dr Munish Raizada Nov 19,2017

This anthropological facts backed increasingly with sophisticated genetics tools accessible now will change our understanding more and more in coming years. Indian nationalists will also be for a shock because their premise of preserving Indians as a very special civilization that uniquely originated in India will be difficult to maintain as the scientific concepts reach to the the public in more easy- to- understand style.

The scientific fact about race makes many people uncomfortable. Because this is a strong antidote to the man-made idea of Race. Historically, Race and color have been used to create power structures and inequalities within human societies. In the game of black and white, many find it hard to digest when confronted with the idea that their forefathers were blacks (coming from Africa).

Now, let us apply this fact to religion. The latter is also a man made concept. Religion (in contrast to spirituality) though seemingly a unifier, has historically played a mixed role. It has molded civilizations after civilizations, but no one will deny that much of the bloodshed, conflict and violence has emanated from the womb of religion.

Despite all this, we are living in exciting times of science and technology. The marvels of science are exploding at an unprecedented speed. The research into medicine, human genome project, human brain project, space and quantum or particle physics are already enhancing our understanding of ourselves and the Universe in a manner unknown previously. Through research into consciousness and ageing, humanity will see new victories in years and decades to come.

The rapid emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will catapult the World – for better or Worse, ‘God” only knows! But, I will agree with what Stephen Hawkins is saying: It is time for the humans to move to other planets before AI starts consuming or replacing humans.

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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)