Keeping What’s Sacred, Sacred Through Unity

Help preserve sacred Peyote medicine and strengthen the Indigenous sovereignty of traditional medicine keepers—contribute to IPCI’s crowdfunding campaign today! Proceeds will help build the Peyote Nursery & Welcome Center, lease land from ranchers to reconnect Indigenous communities with spiritual and sustainable harvest of the Medicine, and fund Indigenous pilgrimages to the Peyote gardens to deepen their relationship to the Medicine through educational programming.

Click here to donate today!

Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative

In December of 2018 the National Council of Native American Churches and the newly formed Board of Directors of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative were joined by their families and members of the Native American Church of Oklahoma, South Dakota, North America and Azee’ Bee Nahagha of Diné Nation (ABNDN). They gathered around huge drawing pads, under some makeshift shade protecting them from the sun shining down on their newly acquired 605 acre Spiritual Homesite, in the native peyote habitat of south Texas known as the Tamulipan Thornscrub.

Ancient dreams, grandparents’ prayers and the visions of youth wove together to describe what would happen on this hub for medicine and cultural regeneration and healing in a hundred years’ time. Since then, they have been working to put those pieces into place so the bright future of a healed medicine ecosystem, community health, individual mental health and indigenous identity for over 45 tribes across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico could be protected and realized.

ABNDN President and IPCI founding Board Member, Steven Benally, Diné from Sweetwater Arizona, shares with Heal Soul about his involvement in this spiritual and ecological healing initiative:

 

What is the story of when you first learned about Peyote?

SB: As is with all things at the time of creation, a purpose and a reason are set in place. That goes for all vegetation, some are food or medicine, some have other ways they fit in. As time goes along, there is an event that happens that shows what is the remedy or healing of that plant—it has always been that way.

The discovery of the peyote for us came to light in that same way—a female had gotten stranded; she was looking for lost loved ones and got into a state of giving up. She was suffering from loneliness, depression, stress, hunger and thirst and finally lay down to give up.

In her dream, she was spiritually enlightened and was told she would wake up with her hand on a plant for healing and all that she needed for nourishment. She was to partake in this and take it home to introduce it to her people. She partook of it and it was true. It was Peyote medicine and it allowed her to gather herself and bring it to her elders and that led to a time of healing.

For me, I grew into that healing way. It was never something I was introduced to separate from my life. I, like my father, was born into it. My grandfather came upon it when he was grown and wove it into our family for healing.

Lucy Benally, Steven Benally, and their daughter Stephanie Yazzie

 

What is at risk if Peyote is not protected?

SB: It should have been a protected plant already. It is at a point where it is not as readily available as it was—there are only small areas that have not been disturbed. This is because of economics and climate change and other human-made environmental issues—these are of concern for many herbs and plants as well as this sacred medicine. There is a human failure to recognize that we need to conserve what we have; we need to be aware and thoughtful about limitations. We need to be involved in protection, conservation and regeneration so it will still be there for our children. This goes for all the elements we use—earth, air, water and plants. We need to allow for regrowth. If we don’t look at this it could be otherwise.

 

How does this work with IPCI benefit you, your family and/or community?

SB: My family is also ABNDN—we are learning to look forward years and years down the road and see how we can preserve sacred ceremony and medicine. As a tribal and spiritual family we can get support through an initiative like this—this is how we found land in Texas and put the support for future involvement into place and to become a voice in the native habitat.

It is hard—but we need to be involved in the politics and economics that affect our future. This momentum needs to be encouraged along and given nutrition to keep it going. This is a long-time agenda and prayer and my ABNDN has a lot of members and we are peyote people, so we stay involved very closely and partner with the other nations and tribes. We want to be able to be an example and show that this conservation is needed and that it is really happening.

 

What is your vision for the future, as related to your work with IPCI?

SB: This conservation initiative is an intergenerational bridge. The wise ones are getting old and they still know about nature and stories and the natural ways and songs. Then there are the children and grandchildren who are almost completely colonized and their retention of what is sacred and what they need to survive as humans is very low.

We need to be the bridge for sacred knowledge—it is of essence and we have a responsibility to be this bridge and pass things on for a brighter tomorrow for our children and grandchildren. So, our responsibility requires giving knowledge and utilizing proper harvest and reseeding and replanting. We combine western science and traditional knowledge so that tomorrow and yesterday can come together. We need both and to carefully blend these. The initiative can address lack of understanding of this on many sides and I am committed to being a bridge.

 

How can indigenous people learn more about and support your work?

SB: Always remember—It is a matter of prayer. You can’t just say it—you have to follow through on it. When we pray with our words ‘take care of this little one, our child, always be there for its needs’, then it is a matter of following through on your prayers to do this work of re-connection and conservation and make it real. When we pray for good health—we can’t then always eat at McDonalds—we have to practice it and follow through.

 

How can non-indigenous people learn more about and support your work?

SB: Native American People have a blessing of being on the land where our cultures emerged—there are those of us who have been able to maintain our authenticity and ways of life. Some have retained more; some are losing it rapidly. Some have lost it all—NAC is helping them find something authentic. We can come together and talk the same language through this medicine at this time—it understands all languages and this is very unique—twenty tribal members from different places can be together in this way. It even understands English and Spanish! That is the spiritual nature of this medicine—it works with fire and water and song to bring us all alive.

Western groups all have an original land-base somewhere and a way of life and a ceremony that was a gift— that was unique to each culture. Now—through time and change we have a melting pot which has led to some loss and now a lot of people are floating around without that connection. They are trying to find it—and sometimes it is hard to understand the history of what has happened and there is some anger and skepticism—but the end plan is to find a wholeness and beauty—a place everyone can feel safe. We are all wanting to find that sanctuary where there is everything we need and we all crave it—in the pursuit of that you have to be careful that you don’t shift over to greed or ignoring others needs. But in that pursuit, there will be something beautiful.

When you step up and follow up on something important—there are others who would be willing to help and realize that dream, that plan, that prayer. In all change there is that development of trust. For that to evolve you have to take a chance and give someone a chance to realize their dream. All races and backgrounds are a mixture of intentions—you have to find a person’s heart and reasons. In regards to our intention of holding on to our healing powers—western people want to do this too and can support us to do it for ourselves. The end plan for all of us with good hearts is always to find healing for someone.

*Dr. Bronner’s donated 720 units of soap and hand sanitizer to the ABNDN community in July 2020 to help with the Covid-19 crisis. We offer our deepest gratitude for this donation in a time of need.

Author Profile
Miriam Volat

Miriam Volat, M.S. is a researcher, educator, organizer, facilitator and ecologist with a passion for soils and nutrient cycles. She has served the IPCI Board of Directors as the organization’s Executive Director since November of 2017 to ensure the conservation of sacred Peyote medicine and the Indigenous way of life.

See all stories by Miriam Volat