Tuesday March 19, 2019
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U.S. Government Shutdown Continues, Weekend Talks Planned

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay. As of Friday, the partial shutdown had been in effect for 14 days.

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Caravans from Central America have inflamed the debate over U.S. immigration policy, with U.S. President Donald Trump using the migrants to try to secure backing for his plan to build a border wall on the frontier with Mexico., VOA

A partial U.S. government shutdown showed no sign of ending soon Friday as White House and congressional aides prepared to work through the weekend to try to resolve a stalemate over funding for U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump said he’d had a “very productive” meeting with congressional leaders to try to end the shutdown, which was triggered by disagreement over $5.6 billion in funding to build the wall.

But Democratic congressional leaders characterized the White House meeting differently.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks to reporters after meeting with President Donald Trump about border security in the Situation Room of the White House, Jan. 4, 2019. VOA

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who assumed leadership of the newly sworn in House Democratic majority Thursday, called the almost two-hour meeting “contentious.” She continued her oft-repeated assertion that agreement on the wall’s funding “cannot be resolved until we open up the government.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters the president threatened to keep the government closed for “a very long period of time, months or even years.”

Despite comments from the Democratic lawmakers that little progress was made, Trump said that “we’re on the same path” to reopen the government. He touted the benefits of “a solid steel or concrete structure” along the border.

The White House said talks on the funding impasse with House and Senate staff members were set for 11 a.m. EST Saturday.

Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and adviser Jared Kushner have been chosen to work with the congressional delegation.

‘We’re not doing a wall’

The House passed a bill Thursday to reopen shuttered federal government agencies. The measure did not, however, include the $5.6 billion the president has demanded for the wall.

“We’re not doing a wall,” Pelosi vowed Thursday. She suggested that the money could better be used for improving border security technology and hiring more border agents.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the House plan to end the shutdown “political theater.”

The Senate passed an identical bill last month, while Republicans still controlled both chambers of Congress.

The legislation passed Thursday in the House called for the reopening of the federal government and the funding of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until early February.

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is surrounded by reporters as he returns from meeting with President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders at the White House, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 2, 2019. VOA

While Trump himself has not used the word “veto,” other White House officials have. One official said the president told Democratic leaders he would “look foolish” if he ended the shutdown.

Trump is blaming Democrats for the current situation after insisting on Dec. 11 he would be “proud” to shut down the government if his demand for wall funding was not met.

On Friday, in response to a reporter’s question, Trump defended that comment. “I’m very proud of what I’m doing,” he said. “I don’t call it a shutdown.”

But he confirmed that he’d told Democrats a shutdown could go on for months or a year or longer.

“I don’t think it will, but I am prepared and I think I can speak for Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate. They feel very strongly about having a safe country, having a border that makes sense,” he said.

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Federal contractor Chris Erickson paints his bathroom, Jan., 4, 2019, in North Salt Lake, Utah. Erickson says he’ll run out of vacation days if the shutdown continues. The father of three from Salt Lake City will then crack into his savings, and he’ll likely postpone a 14th wedding anniversary trip with his wife to a cabin. Erickson said he likely won’t get the chance for reimbursement for the lost days because he’s a contractor. VOA

DHS seeks help

Also Friday, the Pentagon said it had received a request from DHS for additional help securing the U.S. southern border.

A defense official told VOA that the Pentagon was reviewing the request for “additional capabilities at the border.” The official would not elaborate on what specific capabilities DHS requested.

DHS is among the government agencies left unfunded because of the shutdown, but Congress has funded the Defense Department through Sept. 30, 2019.

Also Read: US House Votes to Reopen Government, Rejects Wall Money by Donald TrumpA

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay. As of Friday, the partial shutdown had been in effect for 14 days. This is the fourth-longest government shutdown, partial or full, in the last 40 years.

A Reuters/IPSOS poll conducted mostly after the shutdown began found that 47 percent of adults held Trump responsible for the stoppage, while 33 percent blamed congressional Democrats and 7 percent blamed congressional Republicans. (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)