What is IPCI and why was it formed?
IPCI was created out of an understanding that spiritual reconnection and the therapeutic engagement in ceremony and culture is essential to restoring indigenous community health.
The ecological, cultural, and economic realities of taking responsibility for the Peyote sacrament are complex and not always easy. With IPCI, we engage in many strategies for spiritual reconnection and restoration of Peyote, including land access and stewardship, youth education and engagement, peyote tending, and a system of harvest and distribution that is regenerative and spiritually sound.
We are an international collaborative of top leaders in the peyote conservation effort, members of indigenous peyote communities and their partners. We focus the best of our prayer and thinking and action on the sustainability and indigenous sovereignty of peyote across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
Though the issues and cultural context are different for different communities and in different countries. IPCI seeks to work from a place of unity with all medicine communities in order to be successful in this large vision. Therefore, the Wixratika, ancient utilizers of their hikori medicine, the Native American Church with its many different tribal connections, and ABNDN are all working together in this initiative.
History of Peyote Religion
The indigenous use of Peyote can be traced back as far as 10,000 years to what is now Mexico. There is archeological evidence of the religious use of Peyote in what is now the U.S. dating back 5,000 years. More recently, with the introduction of the horse and railroad to the Americas, the ritual use of this cactus spread to central parts of the United States in the 1800s. This sharing occurred in the context of the brutal and systematic suppression of native culture, spirituality, and ways of life.
During this time of great cultural devastation, Peyote began to be used widely as a pan-Native American religion, and served to revitalize native identity and spiritual connection.
In order to protect their sacramental use of Peyote, Native American tribal groups began incorporating as individual Native American Churches in 1918. In the following decades the religion grew significantly, however the legal rights of Indian people to use Peyote were plagued by non-native misunderstanding and a patchwork of inconsistent laws and court cases. Finally, in 1994, Congress enacted the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 which clearly and specifically protect the rights of members of federally recognized tribes to use, possess, and transport Peyote for their traditional religious purposes throughout the US.
The Legacy of Historical Trauma
Facing Native American Communities Today:
In Post-Colonial Native America, statistics paint a painful picture:
Native Americans have the highest rate of adult and teenage suicide (18.5 per 100,000), nearly double the U.S. average.
Alcohol dependency rates that are three times higher than the national average (Almost 20 percent of all Indian deaths are alcohol-related, compared with less than 5 percent for the general population).
Native Americans have the lowest life expectancy of any group, averaging just 55 years. .
Native Americans are incarcerated at a rate 38% higher than the national average, and are 4 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites.
The Current Peyote Crisis
Decline in Peyote populations has been reported since the late 19th century and has continued to worsen in recent decades.
In 2014, the Native American Church of North America commissioned a study of the naturally occurring Peyote in the United States and found significant declines in availability and quality of the Sacrament. Poor harvesting practices, agriculture, cattle and related root plowing techniques, oil and gas development, a sharp increase in the NAC membership, and potential non-Indian use of the Sacrament have all contributed to these serious declines. With little land available for the NAC to harvest, prices set by the non-native Peyoteros (licensed Peyote dealers) have increased substantially, making access ever more difficult for rural and poor members. Changes in U.S. and Texas law in the 1960s and 1970s also virtually removed the procurement process from tribal hands and have resulted in a complete loss of cultural control of the Sacrament. The old way of gathering Peyote, including making pilgrimage to the Peyote gardens and praying through the entire process of gathering one’s own Peyote, has effectively been lost.
*Mexico brief background
IPCI Strategies in the United States
The Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative Leadership has identified several key strategies and principles for increasing supply and access to the Medicine for future generations.
For the first time in the history of the Native American Church, this project is availing an opportunity for native peoples to steward their own land within the sacred Peyote Gardens. The land will be a site for indigenous people around the country to pilgrimage and once again have direct and prayerful connection to their medicine in its natural habitat. From a conservation perspective, this land will serve as a demonstration and research site to explore sustainability of current Peyote populations, as well as expansion through our Peyote nursery.
Unity, Indigenous Direction and Culturally Sensitive Allies
A successful strategy for addressing the peyote crisis and supporting cultural regeneration must include the leadership by Native American Church and representatives of the Wixarika (Huichol Tribal Leadership). This leadership must be supported and joined by the legal, financial, and technical expertise and resources of organizations who understand the complexity of Peyote Conservation and are willing to maintain a deep respect for the interweaving of native religion, culture, and present-day issues. To this end, project design and management will be conducted using a collaborative and inclusive process.
Alternative Peyote Access
Peyote conservation requires an end to exclusive reliance on the current Peyotero harvest and sales system, and would replace it over time with a regenerative model of exchange. A successful Peyote economy would include a land-base for cultivation and sustainable harvest managed by an indigenous conservationist. Peyote sales would in turn go to support continued efforts for preservation and propagation, including a regional network of land ownership, leases, nurseries, and a system of seed collection. IPCI will coordinate leases with Ranchers or a Ranching group to facilitate an increase in supply that is harvested in spiritually, ecologically and culturally sensitive ways.
Native American youth and adults will be offered training in spiritual and ecological harvest and management, cultivation, land-care, and business to ensure the future of Peyote supply.
Peyote distribution, activities on our land, and training programs must support the ecological and spiritual harvest.
Changing the Rules
If working with the existing legal and regulatory structures does not ensure conservation activities can take place, then IPCI will engage in the potentially difficult task of changing rules. However, the Initiative will also develop strong relationships with regulators and work within the existing structures when possible