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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)

Next Story

Residents Of Texas Express Mixed Feelings, As U.S. President Donald Trump Threatens Of Border Closure

For years, American businesses have restructured their manufacturing so that many products are made on both sides of the border. Border closures could have far-reaching impacts on a wide range of businesses.

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Cargo trucks lineup to cross to the United States near the US-Mexico border at the Cordova-Americas International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on April 4, 2019. Pixabay

This week U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico or close its border with the United States entirely “if the drugs don’t stop or largely stop.”

The Trump administration has made strengthening border security a centerpiece of its domestic policy, even though public opinion polls show Americans are roughly split over substantially expanding a wall along the border.

In El Paso, Texas, a border town across the U.S.-Mexico border from Ciudad Juárez, many residents also express mixed feelings about a border closure that would directly impact their lives more than those of most Americans.

Last year, 7 million pedestrians crossed the U.S. border at the El Paso international bridges to either work or study, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Vehicles with passengers reached the 22 million mark.

Vehicles from Mexico and the U.S. approach a border crossing in El Paso, Texas, April 1, 2019.
Vehicles from Mexico and the U.S. approach a border crossing in El Paso, Texas, April 1, 2019. VOA

Cars, classes and tourists

For graphic design student Paula Lopez, who goes to school in El Paso but lives in Ciudad Juarez, shutting down the pedestrian crossing could affect her education.

“If they close the border, I will have to miss my classes and I am allowed a maximum of five absences,” Lopez said.

Oscar Lira, an intensive care nurse at a medical center in El Paso, says a potential closure would affect people’s health and job security.

“In fact, the treatments would be worse for everyone,” Lira said, adding that a lot of health workers in El Paso live in Ciudad Juarez, which means if they can’t come to work, the extra services would fall to those on the U.S. side.

Even local Republican supporters of the president have expressed concerns. Adolpho Telles, El Paso County Republican Party chairman, was “very concerned” that even a partial closure of the border could hurt the Texas border town.

“People keep joking that we’re going to run out of avocados here in a couple weeks … but that’s not the important part. They [people living across the border] make wire harnesses, component parts for vehicles. They come over here. They ship them east, and then on the East Coast to use, to finish the manufacturing cycle,” Telles said.

Residents of Anapra, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, gather next to the border fence during a prayer with priests and bishops from Mexico and the United States on Feb. 26, 2019.
Residents of Anapra, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, gather next to the border fence during a prayer with priests and bishops from Mexico and the United States on Feb. 26, 2019. VOA

For years, American businesses have restructured their manufacturing so that many products are made on both sides of the border. Border closures could have far-reaching impacts on a wide range of businesses.

Roger Noriega of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington-based policy research group, said the president’s closure threat sows doubt among regional partners and businesses. And he says it remains unclear how it would work.

Also Read: Research Revels, Even Consuming Alcohol Once A Day Raises Risk of Heart Stroke

“If it were absolutely dire emergencies, conceivably, you could say that people can enter … [but] “you need people moving across that border for commercial reasons for tourism, really, in both directions,” Noriega said.

Telles, however, still agrees “there’s going to have to be some closures in certain areas.”

He notes U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are “stretched thin,” and that closures in certain areas could mean reassigning some officers “so they can get better control of the areas and control [of] the people that are trying to come across the border.” (VOA)