The Native American Church

Reproduced without permission from the AMERICAN INDIAN FREEDOM OF RELIGION INFORMATION PACKET ($5.00), published by: Support For Native Sovereignty, P.O.Box 2104, Seattle, WA 98101

NOTE: SOME ISSUES RAISED IN THIS BRIEF WERE FAVORABLY DEALT WITH BY THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT OF 1994

NATIVE AMERICAN CHURCH

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Prepared by Jay Courtney Fikes, Ph.D.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke

SUMMARY _______

The Native American Church is the largest indigenous religion in this country. Estimates range to a quarter of a million members. Indigenous people have treated the peyote cactus as a sacrament for at least 10,000 years in Mexico, and at least 7,000 years in the United States. The Native American Church (NAC) is the modern embodiment of this ancient religious way of life.

The NAC is in a crisis situation. Its legal existence is jeopardized. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 ruled in EMPLOYMENT DIVISION OF OREGON V. SMITH (493 U.S. 378) that the First Amendment does not protect the ritual life of this church (i.e., the sacramental use of peyote).

There is no record of danger or harm associated with the religious practices of the NAC. The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the NAC work cooperatively in protecting the distribution and use of peyote.

Yet, since the SMITH decision, NAC members have been unnecessarily hindered in the exercise of their religion by the removal of the constitutional underpinning that had protected them. Indeed, at least one NAC member is currently being prosecuted for a felony for practicing what earlier courts had held was a constitutionally protected religion.

For these reasons a coalition of NAC leaders, advocates and supporters from around the country are asking Congress to put back what the Supreme Court took away by amending the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 to create a specific federal statutory exemption for the BONA FIDE religious use of peyote by Indian people in the traditional exercise of their religion.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

Reuben A. Snake, Jr., Coordinator

Native American Religious Freedom Project

2329 Calle Luminoso

Sante Fe, New Mexico 87505

505 988-6431

Jay C. Fikes, Ph.D.

Smithsonian Institution Post-doctoral Fellow

4023 Peppertree Lane

Silver Spring, MD 20906-2586

301 460-7907

James Botsford, Director

Indian Law Office

P.O. Box 6100

Wausau, WI 54402

715 842-1681

Walter Echo-Hawk, Senior Attorney

Native American Rights Fund

1506 Broadway

Boulder, CO 80302

303 447-8760

CONTACT LIST

GENERAL INFORMATION

Henri Mann, Coordinator, AIRFA Coalition, c/o Native American Rights Fund,

1712 "N" St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20003-2976. (202) 785-4166.

Terry Martin, National Congress of American Indians, 900 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003. (202) 546-9404.

Suzan Harjo, Morning Star Foundation, 403, Tenth St, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003. (202) 547-5531.

Peterson Zah, President, Navajo Nation, P.O. Box 366, Window Rock, AZ 86515. (602) 871-7700.

Pat Lefthand, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, P.O. Box 278, Pablo, MT 59855. (406) 675-2700.

Jerry Flute, AAIA, P.O. Box 268, Sisseton, S.D. 57262. (605) 698-3998.

LEGAL ISSUES

Walter Echo-Hawk, Native American Rights Fund, 1506 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302. (303) 447-8760.

Gary Kimble, AAIA, 245 5th Ave., Suite 1801, New York, NY 10016-8728. (212) 689-8720.

Karen Atkinson, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flathead Reservation, P.O. Box 278, Pablo, MT 59855. (406) 675-2700.

Jack Trope, AAIA, P.O. Box 609, 32 Division St., Somerville, NJ 08876. (908) 253-9191.

TRADITIONAL USE OF PEYOTE

Reuben Snake Jr., Coordinator, Institute of American Indian Arts, 2329 Calle Luminoso, Sante Fe, NM 87505. (505) 988-6440.

James Botsford, Director, Indian Law Office, Wisconsin Judicare, Inc., P.O. Box 6100, Wausau, WI 54402-6100. (715) 842-1681.

Douglas Long, President, Native American Church of North America, Route 1, Box 67, Osseo, WI 59758. (715) 597-3539.

PRISONERS

Len Foster, Director, Navajo Nation Corrections Project, P.O. Drawer 709, Window Rock, AZ 86515.

Ted Means/Vernon Bellecourt, Heart of the Earth Survival School Prison Program, National Indian Prisoner Support Network, 1209 Fourth St, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414.

Larry McCook/Ginger Wright, Native American Prisoners Rehabilitation Research Project, 1242 First Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45402.

Redhawk, Native American Support Group, P.O. Box 2184, Indianapolis, IN 46206.

International Office of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, P.O. Box 583, Lawrence, KS 66044.

The Iron House Drum, 1242 First Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45205.

SACRED SITES

Endangered Native American Holy Places, Box 334, Tucson, AZ 85702.

Apache Survival Coalition, P.O. Box 11814, Tucson, AZ 85734.

TREATY RIGHTS

International Indian Treaty Council, 710 Clayton St, #1, San Francisco, CA 94117. (415) 566-0251.

SUPPORT GROUPS

Survival American Indian Association, 8205 E. Martin #166, Olympia, WA 98506.

Support For Native Sovereignty, P.O. Box 5464, Tacoma, WA 98415-0464.

Support For Native Sovereignty, P.O. Box 2104, Seattle, WA 98101.