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The war on drugs


Quanah Parker (last chief of the Comanches)

The first war on drugs in the Americas didn’t begin with Richard Nixon in the 1970’s, or even with Prohibition in the 1920’s. It actually began in the 1500’s when the Catholic Church joined the Spanish conquistadors in a concerted effort to wipe out the ancient practice of the indigenous people throughout Mexico. Tribes such as the Aztecs, Huichol, and Tarahumara used Peyote and other hallucinogenics, to see visions, cure disease, and free themselves during ritual dances. Dating back at least five thousand years, these drugs were as much a part of the native culture as Christianity was to the Europeans, which is why it was viewed as an immediate threat to the Imperialist powers and missionaries of the so-called New World.

Peyote ceremonies were officially banned in Mexico by the Spanish Inquisition in 1638, but this was only after one hundred years of war and persecution. During this period natives were routinely tortured until they provided more information about how peyote and psilocybin fit in with their dances and religion. This was upheld as a righteous practice by most Europeans because use of these drugs was seen as communion with the Devil.

Padre Andréa Pérez de Ribas, a seventeenth-century Jesuit, said that the use of peyote should be punished since it was connected with "heathen rituals and superstitions" to contact evil spirits through "diabolic fantasies".

Quanah Parker (last chief of the Comanches) brought the practice back to the U.S. when he helped to form the Native American Church. Parker became motivated to form the peyote religion after being severely injured by a bull in southern Texas. To fight his fever and infection, a Mexican healer was summoned and she prepared a strong tea from fresh peyote to heal him.

In 1988 the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the use of peyote in native ceremonial practices is protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. They confirmed this by saying that the ''outright prohibition of good faith religious use of peyote by adult members of the Native American Church would violate the First Amendment directly and as interpreted by Congress.''

Today the NAC (Native American Church) is the most widespread indigenous religion among Native Americans in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, with its supporters numbering at least 250,000.

Quanah Parker was kind enough to make a cameo appearance in my new novel Black Buffalo.

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