What Groups Are Doing to Protect Against Peyote Poaching

More groups are joining the North American Indigenous organizations to protect the plant.
What Groups Are Doing to Protect Against Peyote Poaching
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This story originally appeared on Lucid News

Since the publication of a previous Lucid News article on the debate surrounding the decriminalization of peyote in the United States, two statements, authored by the Wixárika Regional Council for the Defense of Wirikuta and Decriminalize Nature Santa Cruz, have been released which align those organizations with the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI) and the National Council of Native American Churches (NCNAC). Both statements are responses to “Peyotl’s Call for Unity,” published by Decriminalize Nature’s board in support of the decriminalization of peyote, which DN argues is vital to its future conservation. 

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Wixárika supports North American Indigenous organizations

The Wixárika Regional Council’s statement, finalized on May 13, 2020, expresses the solidarity of Mexico’s indigenous Wixárika (Huichol) communities with the IPCI and NCNAC, which do not want peyote decriminalized in the US because of concerns about severely endangered peyote populations and an increase in illegal poaching. Wirikuta, a territory sacred to the Wixárika where peyote grows, is threatened by agro-industry and mining, and the Wixárika are working to increase “respect and preservation” of the plant and the territory where it grows. 

The authors note that they have “established an alliance of fraternity and mutual support” with representatives of Indigenous US tribes and their representatives, including the NCNAC and the Native Church of Navajoland (Azze Bee Nahaghá of Diné Nation). 

Decriminalize Nature’s “Call for Unity” does not include a specific endorsement by Huichol communities, but it does reference Wixárika practices. The authors also acknowledge the “extensive contributions” of Susana Valadez, non-Indigenous founder and director of the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts, to the statement. While Decriminalize Nature never explicitly claims support of the Huichol for their position, they do identify Valadez and her work with the Center as connected to that community. 

In its statement, the Wixárika Regional Council rejects any perceived alignment with Decriminalize Nature, saying that they were unaware of the organization until recently, when they discovered it on social media. They explicitly dismiss any alleged relationship with DN that the “Call for Unity” might suggest. 

They go on to clarify that the IPCI and NCNAC are the only organizations with which they have a “formal and historical” cooperative relationship and that no decriminalization effort in the US should mention them as supportive of decrim initiatives. 

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Decriminalize Nature Santa Cruz issues an official apology

The other statement, from Decriminalize Nature Santa Cruz, officially apologizes for including peyote in its local resolution decriminalizing all entheogens. Santa Cruz was the second municipality in California to decriminalize entheogenic plants, following Oakland, in January 2020. 

Written as a letter to Native American Church practitioners, members, and the Indigenous community, DN Santa Cruz’s members acknowledge they sought no Indigenous consultation before moving forward with decriminalization efforts. Rather, they were “inspired to repeat [the] success” of DN’s Oakland chapter and used their resolution “verbatim” to present to their own City Council. 

DN Santa Cruz has expressed their solidarity with the IPCI and NCNAC and will amend their city’s resolution “to redact all explicit mention of Peyote.” They will also include a mention of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, and the Amendment of 1994, which grant protection to Native American Church members using peyote, in the revised legislation. 

DN Santa Cruz member and statement co-author Valerie Leveroni Corral notes that her motivations in issuing the apology stemmed from her erroneous belief that she “had considered the potential for benefit, harm and risk” of decriminalization.

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“But I hadn’t,” she explains. “Through my cultural ignorance, I neglected to ask the keepers of the Nahuatl sacrament about the impact on their relationship with the plant and the potential harm it may have on their culture.” 

Corral notes that she hopes all other municipalities with a DN chapter “pull peyote from the list of decriminalized psychedelics.” Structured as a decentralized network, each DN group has the autonomy to determine its own approach to decriminalization in response to local needs, without requiring the approval of national leadership. 

While she confirms that amending the legislation is not currently on an upcoming meeting agenda for Santa Cruz City Council, she is pursuing the change with the help of a former mayor, who is looking into how and when the City Council will take up the issue. 

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