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US Supreme Court to take up college reservation case impacting Indians

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Source- Wikipedia.com

New York: The US Supreme Court is set to take up next week a case challenging the legality of reservations based on race in colleges and university admissions that adversely impact the Indian diaspora.

The case questions the use of race as a criterion for admission by Texas University in affirmative action programmes saying it violates the constitutional guarantee of equality for all.

Universities say they are meant to help disadvantaged communities like those of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans and to ensure diversity. The use of race in admissions sometimes turn into racial quotas similar to caste-based reservations in India and hurt Indian Americans and other Asians.

Indians, along with other Asians, are treated as the equivalent of a most-forward community and are therefore affected even more than whites when quotas are used by universities. The universities assert that quotas or similar affirmative action programmes are needed to ensure diversity in the student body.

Because of this Asians have been required by some of the top universities to score much higher than whites in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a common entrance exam, which is one of the determinants of admission. This is meant to prevent the student body being dominated by Asians, who get higher SAT scores and school grades.

If the Supreme Court prohibits using race as a factor for admissions in the Texas case, more high-scoring Indians and other Asians will be able to enter Ivy League and other elite universities purely on their merit.

The case that the Supreme Court is to hear was brought by a white woman who said the use of race violated her right to equality guaranteed by the US Constitution as many who ranked lower than she was admitted while she was turned away.

Indian diaspora organisations, along with other Asian groups, have complained to the federal government about what they said was the discrimination faced by students from their communities in admissions to Harvard University.

Community leader Thomas Abraham told IANS, “Our children compared to white students have to be much ahead to get admission. Even if they are at the top of the class and have outstanding extracurricular activity record, they still face discrimination in admission.” He added, “My own daughter felt this when she applied to colleges.”

This was because universities were using intangible ways of grading to eliminate qualified students from Asian communities, he said. “We only want that the most qualified students should be admitted on the basis of uniform criteria and the right to equality guaranteed by the Constitution,” he added.

Abraham is the founder-president of the Global Organisation of Persons of Indian Origin, a former president of the National Federation of Indian-American Associations and a board member of the American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin. These three organisations, along with the BITS Sindri Alumni Association of North India, were signatories to the complaint against Harvard, which was seen as the starting point in their campaign to deal with the problem in all institutions.

The complaint said, “Many Asian-American students who have almost perfect SAT scores, top 1 percent GPAs (grade point average), plus significant awards or leadership positions in various extracurricular activities have been rejected by Harvard University and other Ivy League Colleges while similarly situated applicants of other races have been admitted.”

It cited a study by a Princeton University academic that found Asian-American students had to score 140 points more in the SAT than whites for admission to some elite universities.

The Federal Office of Civil Rights dismissed the complaint because it said a federal case on similar grounds was filed last year by another group, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), against Harvard and its outcome will be binding. That group has also filed a similar case against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Harvard University has asked the court hearing the case against it to delay the proceedings till the Supreme Court decides on the Texas University case. Therefore, Supreme Court ruling will determine how Indian-American and other Asian-American students are treated in college and university admissions.

Quotas were used in first half of the last century against Jews because of their high academic performance compared to that of Christians. In its court filing, SFFA accused Harvard of “using racial classifications” for “the same brand of invidious discrimination against Asian Americans that it formerly used to limit the number of Jewish students in its student body.”

(IANS)

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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)