Having Our Cake And Eating It Too

This blog started with a prayer. I asked the medicine itself, to help us help ourselves. Because, we have been helping ourselves. Any of us who are blessed to attend ceremonies have been helping ourselves to a precious and threatened species. We are taking slices from a cake which has gotten much smaller in our lifetimes. We’re the ones at the table, fortunate enough to still have enough medicine to take our share. This is not necessarily a bad thing but also this circle of tipi people is growing, not shrinking. And every family in there brings the next generation as we want this for our children and theirs. But the peyote gardens are not growing, they are shrinking! And this cake only has so many slices!

And it has many layers. There are even charts and graphs available, (not pie charts ok?), illustrating the negative flow and price projections of medicine based on historical data which includes cost, availability, distributor attrition, and increasing demand. But that is really getting into the weeds and I’m not in the mood.

I am in the mood for cake though…

The Mr and Mrs Lorax wedding cake

And so what to do? Do we paralyze from the challenge, unorganized and unclear of what progress looks like?

There’s this saying which keeps rolling around in my mind-

The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The next best time is today.

My second to youngest son is a bright 18 year old who is a gift from the medicine. I don’t know where he gets it from but he is generously opinionated and acts like me back when I was still really sure of myself. He’s been questioning me lately, well always, but lately it’s sounded something like this…

Hey dad, so if the medicine is getting so scarce then why don’t you guys just stop having meetings for a while? Give the gardens a break, maybe a couple of years or something.

I’m thinking… well that’s cute. He cares. In his mind it’s that simple. Ok, I’ll hit him with the facts, the complications, the reality of how people aren’t really that willing or likely to limit the opportunities to pray as they come around.

Well son that’s a nice idea but you see, this church has no pope. That’s what I like about it. We are an unorganized religion. The only kind I can handle. Each of us as an individual and a community is free to ask for help in prayer, from the medicine, from each other, and each of us is free to attend or not, without judgement or pressure. Same way, it is not for me or anyone else to tell the people to stop having meetings…

And we just had what amounted to a two year voluntary moratorium on meetings because of covid. There were still some going on but the amount we all purchased during that time I’ll guarantee was way way down. So you could say the gardens got a little rest.

Exactly dad! That’s what I’m saying! You can’t afford to be going to every birthday and graduation and good times gratitude meeting if things are really as slim for the medicine like you say. It needs to be saved for when people are sick or having serious problems they need real help with!

Now I’m getting that itchy feeling in my mind like the medicine is talking to me through someone else, like it does when it needs to say something we’re not comfortable hearing the truth of from ourselves.

After all, it’s his children’s medicine we’re talking about here. His name is Quanah. He’s the offspring of two people who met in Wirikuta. He’s grown up with his own companion peyote cluster gifted to him at birth. When he turned 6 he said what he wanted for his birthday was a peyote meeting. How hearing challenged would I need to be to not hear the medicine in his voice?

He did not know I was writing this but just now as I was, Quanah came out to say good morning to his cluster.

Several of us, including Quanah’s godparents and a collaboration of elders and friends of the medicine, established Morningstar Conservancy as an advocacy group to raise awareness of the plight of peyote. Education and conservation are our twin goals in this effort. (Future posts here will discuss and include other peyote conservation and advocacy organizations.)

Morningstar’s advisory board has recently introduced a proposal which provides a clear path forward for relief of harvesting pressure on the vastly reduced populations of medicine remaining in South Texas. While this proposal’s scale can only remediate a slice of the larger scope of supply issues, it represents a meaningful example of the practical steps involved in the conservation process which will be required to save some cake for those who, like Quanah and his future children, come after us.

The details are many but the plan is fairly simple. Ten years from the outset of the project, harvesting of medicine sustainably grown in natural culture, will begin. Every plant made available by this method saves several plants from being culled from threatened populations. Why several plants and not just one plant saved on a one to one basis?

Well that’s another important factor in scarcity issues that I have rarely heard discussed.

Because we’re not just talking about numbers here. It’s also a matter of mass. You see, as the amount of peyote available for NAC use has diminished, so has the average size per plant. Simultaneously the price per plant has risen. This is basic Econ 101 but peyote is not just a commodity like soybeans or wheat.

Back in the day a sack of a thousand would come in a large onion bag, big and heavy and hard to hold. Nowadays a sack of the same numbers can be easily carried as the average size of each medicine is so much smaller than before. So really, for an increased cost, we take home less medicine, which fewer people can use for fewer meetings. So more meetings doesn’t just add up to an additional increase in medicine harvested, it means an exponential increase.

The future holding the future

And the Lorax has never been accused of being a numbers guy but I know enough to realize that 3 minus 4 times 2 equals a negative. So any of you with the skills, please run the numbers and see if the math checks.

So when there’s less medicine to cut, pickers who are paid by the piece can’t afford to only take the large plants, the ones that should be harvested. The economics involved increase the tendency to cut every plant you’ll get paid for. This is an economic incentive toward extinction. Current picker price is about 35¢ per button. That’s 35 centavos, 35 percento of a buck. I think that’s about 7 Pesos but it takes a lot of 7 Pesos to buy lunch, and gas, and the beer you drink while out harvesting 35 cent pieces in the hot, dry, rattlesnake harboring thorny scrub of the desert. (Yes, I said it. Peyote pickers have been known to be given to the recreational use of not just alcohol, but also illicit substances while harvesting our church’s medicine. I’m not the principal in the movie Footloose who doesn’t allow any dancing but at the same time, the reality of how we access our medicine is what this discussion is about.) You can bet that nearly anyone, especially someone who is broke and doesn’t use medicine to pray, and who needs to cut 285 of anything to make a hundy, are pretty much going to cut every 35 cents they see. That’s just the reality.

And this is how our cake is being sliced every time we sit down to pray. It’s not optimum. (Understatement) It’s not sustainable. (Same) It’s not ethical to continue in this manner. Can we agree on this point? If so, then we’re where we need to be in this conversation, today, August whatever in the year 2022.

(I took a break from writing this to play chess with Quanah. It was the Q for the checkmate. I’m not sure that’s relevant to this discussion but wait, it might actually be.)

Back to the plan: The plan is that in order to have medicine in ten years, we plant medicine today. In ten years you have bigger medicine which feeds more people who didn’t have to buy medicine from a system that guarantees the extinction of the medicine. 🤨

Parents and child

That’s basically it. We believe there’s a way to do this which is ethical, respectful, and efficient. It’s not just research which supports the potential and the need for this Seedling Sanctuary concept, it’s the ecological, economic, and cultural ingredients already baked into the recipe. These elements need to be applied in proper proportion so that we can insure that our children’s children have a share of the medicine’s blessings.

Sacred Medicine, please help us along the way as it truly benefits your presence among us. So that the fellowship and divine healing which you’ve brought to us is likewise available for our children.

And so it is, I feel I’ve offered some necessary perspective to the problems and potential solutions at hand. Not just in this post, but in the ones leading up to it also. We are many people. There is no one such thing as The Native American Church, indigenous or non-indigenous, white, black or colored otherwise. We are members of these communities yes, but this is a situation where diversity must actually be our strength. There is no help in one against the other. Every tipi pole is its own piece supporting the whole. We are a wide group who love this medicine. We are not only consumers, we are the conservators of it. It is not only botany, it is religion. It is not about race, but it is absolutely about culture. The need to protect our sacrament’s place on this earth is not just a good idea, it’s pretty much an emergency. Maybe not for us. But definitely for our grandchildren. In my quest for the one true thing beyond my own family which deserves my attention and endeavors, it is how this medicine is faring, as a family, because it is a big part of mine.

I’m not here to honk for any particular way or group or method or point of view. I really mean to be here for the medicine. The time I have to write this is a part of what I can give back. It will take much more than one organization, much less one individual, to take meaningful steps for a better future. Upcoming posts here will invite that wider conversation from however many perspectives it needs to be. Thank you for following along. I’m praying that we can have our cake and not just eat it too, but also leave some for the future.

We invite inquiries for information about the Seedling Sanctuary Pilot Project and other issues discussed here. Morningstar Conservancy can be contacted at: info@morningstarconservancy.org.

Click below for next post

Let My People Grow

2 responses to “Having Our Cake And Eating It Too”

  1. Awhile back, when Amada Cardenas was alive, there was a series of meetings at her house and we were attending the Arapaho fireplace meeting. There were several people who were going to the second meeting. However, when some of these people saw that there were non-native people going to our meeting, they got mad and locked the gate. Amada who was very old now, probably in her 90’s, got very mad and she walked over to the gate and unlocked it. She told us, ” as long as I am alive, that door will remain open for all people from all walks of life”. Her name is Amada…the beloved one. ❤️
    I encourage people to read the book by Stacy Schaefer “Amada’s Blessings from the peyote gardens of South Texas ” This book has important historical information about peyote and the Native American Church. Stacy did a brilliant job at documenting Amada’s life through interviews.


    1. That is a wonderful book. And a great narrative describing the intercultural support for the freedoms we enjoy today. It was not just Mexican people but a whole rainbow of individuals who insured this way of worship would be protected for future generations. There is no one anybody it seems to me. Even the North American tribes are a beautiful example of diversity. One of the beautiful aspects of that diversity is how it comes together in unity through peyote ways. Highly recommended reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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