The Cactus and the Anthropologist: The Evolution of Cultural Expertise on the Entheogenic Use of Peyote in the United States
2. The Origins of the Peyote Controversy
2.1. The Mexican Precedent
2.2. The Diffusion of Peyotism2 in the United States
2.3. James Mooney (1861–1921) and the Early Ethnography of Peyotism
3. The Role of Anthropologists in the Legislative Battle Against Prohibition (1915–1937)
3.1. Early Regulatory Efforts
3.1.1. The Failure of Prohibiting Orders on Reservations
3.1.2. The Inapplicability of the Territorial Law
3.1.3. An Attempt at Passing a State Law
Gentlemen, I am glad to meet you all this morning. My name is Quanah Parker. […] I am an Indian myself; I am half white. My mother was a white woman; I attend to the government business for a good many years. […] My Indians use what they call peotus; some call it mescal; all my Indian people use that for medicine. That is a good medicine and when my people are sick they use it. It is no poison and we want to keep that medicine. I use that and I use the white doctor’s medicine, and my people use it too. I want to keep this medicine. I said while ago, my ways in time will wear out, and in time this medicine will wear out too. My people are citizens of the United States, and my people keep the right way; they go to school and teach school; I wish you delegates will look after my people—look after my Indians.
3.2. The Increasing Involvement of Anthropologists in the Legislative Arena
3.2.1. Getting Prepared for the Federal Battle
3.2.2. The Hayden Bill and the 1918 Congressional Hearings
Believing that peyote is the comforter sent by God, they reject the teachings of the Church. Believing that peyote reveals the secret thoughts of man and gives super human knowledge of the contents of books, they deprecate the necessity of schools. Believing peyote a cure-all for every human ailment, they ignore the advice and aid of physicians. Attending the weekly peyote meetings, they waste time, strength, and money, consequently neglecting their homes and farms.(U.S. Congress et al. 1918 [emphasis added])
My experience is that the Bureau of Ethnology has never been helpful to the Indians in any respect […] the ethnologists always lead the Indian’s mind back into the past. […] You ethnologists egg on, frequent, illustrate, and exaggerate at the public expense, and so give the Indian race and their civilization a black eye in the public esteem. It was well established at the time of the ghost-dance craze among the Indians that white men were its promoters if not its originators. That this peyote craze is under the same impulse is evident from what appears in this evidence.
The proof is clear that the physicians, the chemists, the missionaries, and many of those who are endeavoring to uplift the Indian, are convinced of the harmful effects of peyote and desire to see its use discontinued. […] The writer of this report heard many Indians testify on behalf of the drug, and gave due weight to their testimony, but certainly they are to some extent interested, while the bulk of those advocating the passage of the bill are disinterested.(U.S. Congress et al. 1918 [emphasis added])
3.3. The Creation of the Native American Church
3.3.1. A Preventive Legal Strategy
The purpose for which this corporation is formed is to foster and promote the religious belief of the several tribes of Indians in the state of Oklahoma, in the Christian religion with the practice of the Peyote Sacrament as commonly understood and used among the adherents of this religion.(Stewart 1993 [emphasis added])
3.3.2. The Role of Anthropologists in the Creation of the NAC
3.3.3. The Subsequent Retaliation against James Mooney
4. The Role of Anthropologists in the Legal Defense of Peyotism before Courts (1956–1980)
4.1. The Reconfiguration of the Peyote Controversy
4.1.1. The Multiplication of Anti-peyote State Laws; and Their Relative Efficiency
4.1.2. Following the Trail of James Mooney
4.1.3. The Evolution of the Federal Attitude Towards Peyote
4.2. Cultural Expertise and Strategic Litigation
4.2.1. Elaborating a Test Case Strategy
4.2.2. The Woody Decision (1964) and Subsequent Successes
[The] right to free religious expression embodies a precious heritage of our history. In a mass society, which presses at every point toward conformity, the protection of a self-expression, however unique, of the individual and the group becomes ever more important. The varying currents of the subcultures that flow into the mainstream of our national life give depth and beauty. We preserve a greater value than an ancient tradition when we protect the rights of the Indians who honestly practiced an old religion in using peyote one night at a meeting in a desert hogan near Needles, California.
4.2.3. The Texas Crisis (1967–1969)
4.2.4. Anthropologists as Strategic Expert Witnesses
Conflicts of Interest
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The neologism “entheogen” (“generating the divine within”) refers to any psychoactive substance when used for its religious or spiritual effects, whether or not in a formal religious or traditional structure. This neologism, coined in the late 1970s by a group of ethnobotanists and religious scholars, including Richard Evans Schultes and Robert Gordon Wasson (Godlaski 2011), is often chosen to contrast with recreational use of the same substances. Entheogens have been used in a ritualized context for thousands of years and their religious significance is well established with anthropological and academic literature. Examples of traditional entheogens include psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, iboga, salvia, and cannabis (Cavnar and Labate 2016).
“Peyotism” generally refers to the entheogenic use of peyote as practiced by Native Americans; by extension, “peyotists” refers to the practitioners of the faith. The term was framed by Vincenzo Petrullo in his 1934 doctoral dissertation (Petrullo 1934).
Another ceremony was raided in April of the same year in Custer County, Oklahoma, resulting on the arrest of nine Cheyenne and Arapaho Peyotists, and seven Native American “witnesses”. The case was brought to trial at Arapaho in July, and a similar “semantic” defense was raised. Again, the court dismissed the charges, founding that mescal was not to be confused with peyote, and that the latter was not covered by the Territorial statute. Stewart reports that this semantic confusion dated back to the late 19th century, when the use of peyote was first observed by American authorities and confused with that of mescal (Stewart 1993).
La Flesche (1857–1932) was born on the Omaha reservation in Nebraska, and became the first professional Native American anthropologist. He joined the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1910, and remained until his death. He investigated the practice of peyote use among the Ponca and the Osage, although he did not published significant work about peyotism (Mark 1982).
Michelson (1879–1938) a distinguished linguist, was not as experienced as Mooney and La Flesche in relation with peyote, but had the occasion to observe ceremonies among the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming (Boas 1938).
The NAC nowadays claims close to 300,000 members and hundreds of local chapters, with members belonging to more than seventy Native American tribes. The church has retained a complex and loosely organized structure, divided between four main branches—none of which having any direct theological or legal control over the others—: the NAC of Oklahoma, the NAC of North America, the Azee Bee Nahagha of Diné Nation, and the NAC of South Dakota (Smith and Snake 1996; Maroukis 2012).
Gertrude Bonnin also participated in the legislative effort in Colorado and Nevada, where anti-peyote statutes were enacted simultaneously in February 1917. In the case of Nevada, it is interesting to note that the prohibition was adopted a by the mid-1930s was organized on fourteen reservations and had well over ten-thousand members, decades before peyotism actually started to spread in the state (Stewart 1993).
Alfred L. Kroeber (1876–1960), a figure of American cultural anthropology, received his Ph.D. under the supervision of Franz Boas at Columbia University in 1901 (the first doctorate in anthropology awarded by the University). He then became the first professor appointed to the Department of Anthropology at Berkeley University. He observed and wrote about the use of peyote in the context of his doctoral research among the Arapaho (Kroeber 1902).
Schultes’s argument was challenged by La Barre, who succeeded in imposing his view that the “religious appeal” of peyote was the crucial element behind peyotism’s rapid and vast expansion (La Barre 1939).
The peyote prohibition on the Navajo reservation was eventually lifted a decade later. It is now estimated that over half the Tribe’s members have adopted peyotism, meaning that about one-fourth of the membership in the NAC is Navajo (Stewart 1993).
Through the intermediary of Omer Stewart, the opinion was published in the American Anthropologist (American Anthropologist 1961).
Stewart conserved the chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado—which he funded in 1944—until his death in 1991.
Unconvinced by Stewart’s arguments, Rosen published his final answer the same year (Rosen 1979). It should be noted here that this debate unfolded in the context of the Mashpee litigation, whose 41-day trial saw the confrontation of anthropologists’ and historian’s expertise, and was recorded by James Clifford (Clifford 1988).
See, for instance, the role of anthropologist Jay C. Fikes in the campaign for the adoption of the 1994 Amendments to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which followed the resounding Supreme Court’s decision in Smith and allowed for the safeguarding of the exemption scheme and a relative stabilization of the controversy (Maroukis 2012).
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Bouayad, A. The Cactus and the Anthropologist: The Evolution of Cultural Expertise on the Entheogenic Use of Peyote in the United States. Laws 2019, 8, 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws8020012
Bouayad A. The Cactus and the Anthropologist: The Evolution of Cultural Expertise on the Entheogenic Use of Peyote in the United States. Laws. 2019; 8(2):12. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws8020012Chicago/Turabian Style
Bouayad, Aurelien. 2019. "The Cactus and the Anthropologist: The Evolution of Cultural Expertise on the Entheogenic Use of Peyote in the United States" Laws 8, no. 2: 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws8020012