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Reflections - Six Years of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative

First Baby Steps

In 2017 - six years ago this month – after 6 months of environmental impact studies, mineral rights studies and meetings about governance, strategy, and the future, a 605-acre ranch in the heart of the S. Texas Peyote habitat, was deemed safe environmentally and legally to be purchased as a not-for-profit managed spiritual homesite from which to support the conservation of Peyote and its peoples. “It was an answer to a prayer”, said founding board members and friends of the new non-profit, the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI).

Sunset over Tamaulipan thornscrub (Peyote habitat) in South Texas. Notice: several different types of acacia scrub, each friends of the Peyote cactus and the white ‘caliche’ rock which the Medicine loves to live in.

By June of 2018, the Presidents of four Native American Church organizations had put together the initial by-laws of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative to not only manage the new ranch, but, through prayerful strategy, learn how to foster reconnection and medicine sovereignty for Native Peyote peoples. The baby conservation organization was incorporated in the state of Texas to conserve Peyote and ensure its abundance for future generations through spiritual and ecological harvesting. The Native American Rights Fund agreed to serve as fiscal sponsor, hold the land title, and manage donations until the organization had gained some experience.

At that time, the forming Board was made up of an Alliance called the National Council of Native American Churches that had come together various times over 40+ years, when needed, to address issues of importance to all Peyote peoples. The then Presidents and their designees, met in Laredo to set up the new organization to carry on the generational conservation prayer. They were from Native American Church of North America, Andrew Tso; Azee Bee Nahagha of Diné Nation, Steven Benally; Native American Church of Oklahoma, Eugene Black Bear and Native American Church of South Dakota, Sandor Iron Rope. The central goal was that all Native Americans, their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren, would have access to medicine harvested with prayer (without poaching and/or alcohol intoxication) for generations to come. The National Council was deemed a good forming Board - as the President’s were charged together with considering the needs and goals of all Native Peyote people and informing their organizations and membership about the conservation efforts. Initially this included Indigenous peoples of Mexico and Canada as well as the United States.

IPCI Board and staff hears presentation from Sandra Refina Smith on the size of medicine harvested by the Peyoteros.

Forming Strategies and Initiating Prayers

During 2017, 2018 and 2019 the forming board set the following strategy areas:

  • Utilize a non-colonial governance model - ie work by consensus at the Board of Directors level, without a President, boss, or western hierarchy in the decision-making process. This would allow Indigenous and cultural ways to inform how the mission was carried out.

  • Utilize the new land as a hub for regeneration of the Medicine Gardens

    • For conservation leases for ecological and spiritual harvest and replanting

    • Have native distribution and distributor(s)

    • Land owner education and good neighbor relationships with Ranchers

    • Peyotero education

    • Have a comfortable home for people coming for medicine

    • Protect the whole Peyote region

  • Reconnect people directly with the responsibility of taking care of the Medicine

    • Pilgrimage - like in the old days - for direct harvests - including areas designated to different cultures/tribes.

    • Bring seeds back for planting

    • Focus on the Youth

    • Share what is going on with Native American Church and ABNDN folk

    • Make a website to share information

  • Address security and poaching issues

  • Maintain good relations with DEA and other important agencies

To support and direct these activities, each organization held Prayers on the land that first year and we had the first two harvests be for and by the Youth - this helped to keep the focus always on the needs and health of future generations.

Each of the four forming organizations mentioned in Grandma Amadas book, hosted a ceremony on the new land, first ABNDN then NACNA, then South Dakota, and finally later that year Native American Church of Oklahoma. Since then - there has always been Ceremony, offerings, and prayer with each of the Board of Directors meetings. Thomas Woody, even sewed the project a tipi to be available to all, which was dedicated in April of 2019. In 2019, the two youth harvests, hosted by NACNA and ABNDN, were initiated with offerings and the youth were instructed in how to always begin Peyote harvest time with prayer, offerings, introducing yourself to the medicine, cutting properly (so plants regrow for next time), and discussions of the connection, offering, and responsibility between Native peoples and this Medicine.

The plan in 2020 was to continue to grow step by step into more and more land protected, more and more people connected and more and more families and chapters with clean medicine for their ceremonies back home. A big prayer and a big job. We decided to build a house for a conservation manager to live in to take care of things on the Ranch and begin to bring more people to the land.

IPCI's Conservation Manager's house built with 7000 adobe bricks made from clay from the land.

Changes - Like Water

Then COVID-19 came and so did news of the City of Oakland in California deciding to decriminalize plant medicines - including Peyote.

The virus and the unexpected threat to the Medicine from the rapidly growing interest in ‘Psychedelics” slowed down the work on the home Ranch (nicknamed the 605 for the number of acres). Rather than having many community work parties, we had small gatherings where folks worked slowly on creating the house for use by a conservation manager in the future. Under the guidance of our first Conservation manager, Arnold Slowman, 7000 bricks were built by hand with clay from the land weaving in reconnection to Indigenous building techniques and sustainable living practices to have minimal impact on the thornscrub environment. The adobe home is backed up to a nursery and germination chamber. Camping sites and a womans and mens bath-house were also built. Learn more about the nursery and facilities we have here.

At that time the National Council of Native American Churches felt they had to do whatever they could to stop the decriminalization of Peyote from happening. A small communications committee was formed and though Oakland did not honor the request to leave Peyote out - some other cities did, and then so did the State of California. Today, some cities are excluding and leaving Peyote out still. See documents of decrim efforts here. IPCI does not condone the use of mescaline, in the decriminalization flurry - it seemed the most important and the most legally sure - to keep Peyote out of these bills, and thus that was the focus. Bioculturally peyote is addressed as a whole medicine, in all its contents, which includes all it's derivatives, which already includes mescaline.

Around June of 2021, there was a change in leadership at NACNA and the new leadership did not recognize the National Council nor want their President to continue with a role in IPCI. The forming Board then decided to move away from being representatives for the Church organizations or use the National Council Alliance and instead have Board members be from different regions of the United States and Indian Country and have the following requirements - they were, with their wife, ceremonial leaders who actively serve Native Americans through running Peyote ceremonies, they were willing to think about all Peyote people and the future of the medicine, they could work well within the non-hierarchical, Indigenous decision making model and were willing to speak up about the conservation needs of the Peyote territory both with community engagement of NAC/ABNDN and Native peyote families but also to the outside world such as philanthropists and the psychedelic and conservation worlds.

With this change in the way the Board membership was made up and a Bylaws change, the official name registered with the federal government for the conservation organization became Indigenous Ceremonial and Religious Services Organization - the everyday name remained IPCI. The reason was to be clear to the IRS that the new organization was there to serve Indigenous Ceremonial people and Indigenous Religion through conservation activities, not be a religious organization.

Strategy and Prayerful Movements

Over the years the spiritual homesite has become a pan-tribal place where many languages are heard and Indigenous peyote people come to reconnect with the peyote gardens. Relationships between IPCI and others have moved slowly, gathering the trust of our neighbors and community. Building the nursery on the land took good relations with the DEA – we worked with them to gather the permits needed to complete the process. With each ranch we partner with we do an assessment of the peyote health and population first, then small harvests and short leases before deepening our conservation partnerships.

Through the past six years, prayers and direct harvest facilitated by IPCI have benefited veterans, orphans, people battling cancer, substance abuse, and incarceration (themselves or their parents). Our Spiritual Homesite has become a sanctuary for those who are seeking support in their lives. We have created access to good, clean medicine for chapters, families Indigenous peyote tribal members. Board members do speak up to the outside world, but are more focused on the Peyote garden conservation. This November we celebrate, give thanks and expand the numbers of people who will continue this work for our future generations.

Today and looking ahead to the next six years

We are looking forward to hosting our first Open House this November 22nd - 26th. Our prayer for the event is to nurture generational responsibility and continue to facilitate reconnection. We will continue to share information about conservation and continue to deepen our understanding of damaged areas and learn how to replant and regenerate the land. In the next two years we will also be expanding our facilities with a Welcome Center, museum, and housing – a place to learn, gather, and rest. It is with prayer and humbleness that we look forward to our next six years.

Feel free to reach out with questions and suggestions to


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