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Trump Calls Congressional Leaders For a “Border Security Briefing”

About 800,000 government workers have either been told to stay home or continue working without pay until the shutdown is resolved.

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The Capitol is seen as New Year's Day comes to a close with the partial government shutdown in its second week, in Washington, Jan. 1, 2019. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump has invited Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to what the White House is calling a “border security briefing” Wednesday, while a partial government shutdown hits its 12th day.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to attend the session. It is not clear if Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer or fellow Democrat and House speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi will be there, or whether the two sides will use the meeting to negotiate plans to reopen the government.

Democrats will have a majority in the House of Representatives when the new Congress opens Thursday, and Pelosi plans to hold votes on a pair of bills that would fund most of the shuttered agencies through the end of September and the Department of Homeland Security through February 8.

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Flags fly in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday morning, Jan. 1, 2019, as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week. VOA

The proposed legislation does not include the $5 billion in funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump is demanding in any spending measure he signs. Democrats have previously offered $1.3 billion in funding for other border security measures instead.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement late Tuesday that the Democratic plan is a “non-starter” and “fails to secure the border and puts the needs of other countries above the needs of our own citizens.”

Pelosi and Schumer have rejected Trump’s wall plan as “expensive and ineffective” and say Trump has yet to put forth a plan that has a chance to pass in both the House and Senate.

Ahead of their potential meeting, Trump and Pelosi traded comments Tuesday on Twitter.

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Visitors take their pictures at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week. VOA

 

“Border Security and the Wall ‘thing’ and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let’s make a deal?” Trump said.

Pelosi responded that Trump “has given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly & quickly to pass our plan to end the irresponsible #TrumpShutdown.”

Before the shutdown went into effect, the Senate passed a stopgap funding bill that would have funded the now-closed government operations through February 8 without the wall funding. The House passed its own bill that did have funding for the wall.

Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues Tuesday that lawmakers in the Senate should now support the new Democratic plan after their earlier action, and that if they reject it, then they would be “fully complicit in chaos and destruction” caused by the ongoing shutdown.

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A closed sign is displayed at The National Archives entrance in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week. VOA

About 800,000 government workers have either been told to stay home or continue working without pay until the shutdown is resolved.

Also Read: Donald Trump to Slow Down US Withdrawal From Syria: Republican Senator

Tourists in Washington are seeing new effects of the impasse Wednesday as the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo close until a deal is reached. The National Gallery of Art will be closed starting Thursday. (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.”

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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)