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Pot and Pretendians

Ruth Hopkins
12/21/15

I’ve heard it dozens of times: folks justify the appropriation of Native culture and the theft of sacred rites and ceremonies by saying there’s no injury; that it’s essentially harmless, or even beneficial.

Wrong. How does redface, be it physical, mental or spiritual, aside from making a mockery of us Originals, further colonial conquest and genocide? Let me count the ways…

I could point you in the direction of studies that show how appropriation harms Native youth psychologically, provide you will a million personal stories from Native people who experience microagressions on a daily basis, or paint the big picture for you, linking hipster headdresses, race based mascots and for-profit sweat lodges to the persistent systemic oppression of Native peoples from Columbus’s arrival to the present, but for now, let me give you one contemporary example.

Recently, officers in Sonoma County, California, confiscated marijuana plants from the Oklevueha Native American Church. Members of the church say the plants are sacred and used ceremonially. They’ve since taken the matter to Federal Court, suing Sonoma County, its Sheriff, and the Governor of California, claiming they’ve been discriminated against under the Constitution of the state of California, and alleging rights violations under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The group is seeking an injunction and praying for damages as a remedy.

Oklevueha members assert that marijuana is integral to their sacraments, just like peyote.

There’s just one problem. It’s not. While I’m not a member of the Native American Church, I practice Dakota/Lakota spirituality, and marijuana has not, nor has it ever been, used as a part of ceremony. While some species of hemp have always grown in the western hemisphere, the marijuana people smoke today is native to Asia. It’s propagation in the Americas is relatively new. I also know a few individuals who put weed in their canupa (sacred pipe), and were shunned for it.

I spoke to a few Native people who frequent Native American Church ceremonies, and they told me the same thing one of the most well-known Lakota medicine men in the United States told me: marijuana is not a part of our sacrament.

Now don’t misinterpret me here. Marijuana is medicinal, as are many plants utilized by Indigenous people. However, claiming its part of our spirituality to avoid catching a case threatens the rights of actual Natives who deserve protection under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Yes, I said ‘actual Natives.’ You see, the Oklevueha Native American Church, established in April 1997 in Gunnison, Utah, doesn’t appear legitimate. On their website, they offer membership to those who “desire to be blessed by having access to Native American Ceremonies and Medicines (such as Peyote, San Pedro, Ayahuasca and Cannabis) without legal interference.” The leader of this church is James Warren ‘Flaming Eagle’ Mooney. He claims to be Seminole. If you research Mr. Mooney online, you’ll uncover a veritable maze of a pretendian who is desperately trying to prove he’s Native. He claims to be a direct descendant of Osceola, but data on his family tree is sketchy. So is his basic assertion of Native lineage. He’s not enrolled in a state or federally recognized Tribe. As you scroll, be prepared to wade through a swamp of anecdotal evidence and hearsay from unqualified sources offered up as proof of his ancestry and the right to call himself “Medicine Man Emeritus.” By the way, let me clue you in on a little secret: I don’t know a single wicasa wakan (medicine man) who calls himself that. Be suspicious of anyone who is a self-proclaimed medicine man or “shaman.” Yet ‘Flaming Eagle’ would have us believe he was commanded by a Lakota to “take this medicine to the whiteman.”

When non-Natives steal ceremonies from us, it creates a spiritual harm. These sacred rites have real power, and that’s not to be taken lightly. How dare people take a belief system that our Native ancestors have bled for and died to protect, only to twist it and exploit it for personal gain.

The ways of the pipe and the teachings of the Native American Church are not a cover for white people to avoid responsibility, and it’s blasphemous to consider them a means to profit making venture.

Have we learned nothing from the deaths that occurred in Sedona? James Arthur Ray was convicted of three counts of negligent homicide in 2010 for those who died thanks to his improperly run new age “sweat lodge.”

Meanwhile, the legal action of Oklevueha Native American Church in the Federal court system could affect the rights and protections of Natives everywhere.

As we say on Twitter, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” We must remain vigilant against those who seek to desecrate our ceremonies, dehumanize us, and homogenize and erase our cultures. The consequences for failing to keep watch and protect our legacies are real.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton & Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is a writer, blogger, biologist, activist and judge.

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hesutu's picture
I was traveling in Italy. In particular Napoli. They have a dish they say was invented or originated or indigenous to that place called pizza. It involved tomato sauce. Do you know my sister where tomatoes are from? I was traveling in India. And in Africa. In both places there were many dishes that used hot peppers. In all cases these were represented as traditional indigenous dishes and an important part of their culture. Yet these peppers come from my people. What do you say my sister? Did my friends in India and in Africa lie to me?
hesutu
JrhHarris's picture
Oklevueha is not a Native American Church. It is a 501C organization, and that is a big difference. Native American Churches are often on the reservations. They are run by, and attended by carded members. This 501C organization is recognized in their state, but not recognized by any tribal group or carded tribal members. These groups are using the 501C "recognition" to bypass tribal recognition requirements through the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs.)
JrhHarris
James Mooney's picture
I have been retired from all management responsibilities of Oklevueha Native American Church for more than a year, however since Ruth Hopkins has question my authenticity by personally naming me. I feel it is my responsibility to show the ignorance of Ruth Hopkins statements with truthful FACTS. Oklevueha Native American Churches Council of Elders have already prepared and submitted a rebuttal to Ruth's article. By merely reviewing the following Web-pages filled with factual evidence gathered by federal attorney's and their investigators will dispel everyone of Ruth Hopkins bogus assertions; 1) http://nativeamericanchurches.org/native-american-church/ 2) http://nativeamericanchurches.org/james-warren-flaming-eagle-mooney/ 3) http://nativeamericanchurches.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/oklevueha-lakota-sioux-nation.pdf
James Mooney
Awakening1's picture
@James Mooney: Can you clarify which "bogus assertions" you are attempting to rebut with the links you provided?
Awakening1
James Mooney's picture
Awakening1, Please re-read Ruth Hopkins Article and then read the links that I provided.
James Mooney
Rondino's picture
Yes. Definetly. Look at the harm done by Wolf and Swan Storm of the series of books which truly stole stories from various tribes and placed them in a way as to make the authors seem as powerhouses of medicine people. They then went on to conduct sexual harm against many down through the years. True travesty.
Rondino
lazespud's picture
@James Mooney: I have read Ruth Hopkins article and your links. You have answered her assertions. Is your tribe a federally recognized tribe? Your site asserts the following: "Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) is a United States federally recognized indigenous American Native Earth Based Healing and Empowerment Church." What does that even mean? Are you a non profit? Getting non-profit status is literally a million miles away from being a federally recognized tribe. Unless you can specifically show that your "tribe" is a federally recognized tribe, I will trust Ruth's powerful and pointed assertions. Marijuana, I believe, should be legal everywhere (as it is in my state of Washington). But by asserting some integral historical and spiritual right, you are risking diluting and weakening all the legitimate spiritual rights that actual native americans have. And you aren't doing the cause of general legalization any favors either.
lazespud
James Mooney's picture
lazespud, Thank you for reading the facts concerning Ruth's Hopkins un-vetted article and thank you for your wise questions and statement. "Is your tribe a federally recognized tribe?" No it is not a federally recognized tribe, however it is a state recognized tribe. It is important for inquisitive people, like yourself, to know that my tribe historically did not use Peyote in their ceremonies, they used 'Black Drink' (Osi) as their Sacrament. With this said inquisitive people need to know that my Tribal Chief and Tribal Council honored my work with Peyote. Three other important facts that needs have light shown upon your question. 1) It was Clifford 'White Buffalo Man' Jake a Paiute Bannock Shoshone Roadman that guided me with his voiced intent to train me to take the Peyote to the White Man for he would not. He worked with me for 10 years before he gifted me his cedar bag. (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/clifford-white-buffalo-man-jake-healing-and-blessing/). 2) His, Clifford's, nephew former tribal Chief of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians is and still is the founding Custodian of the Medicine (Peyote) for ONAC. Most of all the videos found on our web-site has him in them setting right next to me or playing his flute. (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/james-warren-flaming-eagle-mooney/). 3) Leslie Foolbull, President of the Rosebud Reservation NAC of South Dakota, not only blessed myself and Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) to take the Native American Church medicines to the white man. A few years later after Leslie passed over his Nephew Richard 'He Who Has the Foundation' Swallow the person who took over the leadership of Rosebuds NAC made a written statement, confirming his uncles blessing upon myself and Oklevueha NAC. (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/take-this-medicine-to-the-white-man/). "United States federally recognized indigenous American Native Earth Based Healing and Empowerment Church." What does that even mean?" This means that the United States Government accepts the Earth as being the indigenous or original people of North America as being their Temple. And that most if not all of ONAC ceremonies and Sacraments are healing and/or empowering. (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/habilitation-program/) Are you a non profit? We are a non profit church of sorts, we measure our success by how many people we assist to live a happier and more productive lives. We are known by the federal government as a 'Free' Church were upon the federal government has vetted the leader of a church has taken a Vow of Poverty. To better understand the answer to this question Googling 'Free' church even though all of the examples that your search will bring up are of christian denominations. It will give you a better understanding to your question and as for the 'Vow' of Poverty' issue, it is an written understanding that federal courts use to measure the sincerity of the leader of a church in question. Please know that ONAC meet's all 14 IRS suggested elements that federal courts uses to distinguish what is a valid church or not. It is recommended that a church in question must prove it self to meet 9 of the 14 elements in order to be considered as a bonafide church. To your statement "Marijuana, I believe, should be legal everywhere (as it is in my state of Washington). But by asserting some integral historical and spiritual right, you are risking diluting and weakening all the legitimate spiritual rights that actual native americans have. And you aren't doing the cause of general legalization any favors either." Reading the filed Federal Injunction will give you a broader understanding of this issue, (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/complaint-and-injunction-filed-in-california/) I wish you well in your investigation. James
James Mooney
James Mooney's picture
lazespud, Thank you for reading the facts concerning Ruth's Hopkins un-vetted article and thank you for your wise questions and statement. "Is your tribe a federally recognized tribe?" No it is not a federally recognized tribe, however it is a state recognized tribe. It is important for inquisitive people, like yourself, to know that my tribe historically did not use Peyote in their ceremonies, they used 'Black Drink' (Osi) as their Sacrament. With this said inquisitive people need to know that my Tribal Chief and Tribal Council honored my work with Peyote. Three other important facts that needs have light shown upon your question. 1) It was Clifford 'White Buffalo Man' Jake a Paiute Bannock Shoshone Roadman that guided me with his voiced intent to train me to take the Peyote to the White Man for he would not. He worked with me for 10 years before he gifted me his cedar bag. (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/clifford-white-buffalo-man-jake-healing-and-blessing/). 2) His, Clifford's, nephew former tribal Chief of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians is and still is the founding Custodian of the Medicine (Peyote) for ONAC. Most of all the videos found on our web-site has him in them setting right next to me or playing his flute. (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/james-warren-flaming-eagle-mooney/). 3) Leslie Foolbull, President of the Rosebud Reservation NAC of South Dakota, not only blessed myself and Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) to take the Native American Church medicines to the white man. A few years later after Leslie passed over his Nephew Richard 'He Who Has the Foundation' Swallow the person who took over the leadership of Rosebuds NAC made a written statement, confirming his uncles blessing upon myself and Oklevueha NAC. (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/take-this-medicine-to-the-white-man/). "United States federally recognized indigenous American Native Earth Based Healing and Empowerment Church." What does that even mean?" This means that the United States Government accepts the Earth as being the indigenous or original people of North America as being their Temple. And that most if not all of ONAC ceremonies and Sacraments are healing and/or empowering. (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/habilitation-program/) Are you a non profit? We are a non profit church of sorts, we measure our success by how many people we assist to live a happier and more productive lives. We are known by the federal government as a 'Free' Church were upon the federal government has vetted the leader of a church has taken a Vow of Poverty. To better understand the answer to this question Googling 'Free' church even though all of the examples that your search will bring up are of christian denominations. It will give you a better understanding to your question and as for the 'Vow' of Poverty' issue, it is an written understanding that federal courts use to measure the sincerity of the leader of a church in question. Please know that ONAC meet's all 14 IRS suggested elements that federal courts uses to distinguish what is a valid church or not. It is recommended that a church in question must prove it self to meet 9 of the 14 elements in order to be considered as a bonafide church. To your statement "Marijuana, I believe, should be legal everywhere (as it is in my state of Washington). But by asserting some integral historical and spiritual right, you are risking diluting and weakening all the legitimate spiritual rights that actual native americans have. And you aren't doing the cause of general legalization any favors either." Reading the filed Federal Injunction will give you a broader understanding of this issue, (http://nativeamericanchurches.org/complaint-and-injunction-filed-in-california/) I wish you well in your investigation. James
James Mooney
Marka's picture
There is a mention of some other things about ONAC in an article posted here: http://www.bialabate.net/news/the-religious-freedom-restoration-act-the-dea-exemption-process-and-ayahuasca-healings ONAC publicly advertises that anyone who buys a membership from them is exempt from the Controlled Substances Act with regard to all “earth-based sacraments.” This is unequivocally false. The legitimate Native American Churches have denounced ONAC’s claim that marijuana and other “earth-based sacraments” are or can be NAC sacraments. But apparently they have not yet heard about other claims that ONAC makes in the name of the Native American Church. They seem not to have heard yet that not only does ONAC claim, in the name of NAC, that all its members have the the legal right to use marijuana, ayahuasca, psilocybin, etc., but ONAC members can use them any way they come up with, as long as “the user considers it to be ceremonial and with intention.” They seem not to have heard yet that ONAC sells memberships online to people they have never shared ceremony with, never even met. For $200, anyone can call themselves a Native American Church member, regardless of whether or not they have ever participated in a real NAC ceremony or have any knowledge of Native culture (beyond perhaps New Age pop versions of Native culture). They seem not to have heard yet that one can become a “medicine person” by filling out a form, paying ONAC $1000, and receiving a laminated card certifying that one is a medicine man or woman. They seem not to have heard yet that by assembling three people and paying a fee of several thousand dollars (reportedly $7000) anyone can set up their own “Native American Church” (that is, a branch of ONAC), and then they purportedly have the legal right to serve otherwise illegal entheogens to others, as long as everyone who partakes is also a “Native American Church member” (holder of an ONAC card). The only guideline that members are expected to follow for their use of their sacraments is that “Medicines must always be used in a way the user considers to be ceremonial and with intention, whenever possible in consultation with a medicine person or branch leader.” The ability of ONAC “medicine persons” or branch leaders to offer wisdom and guidance may be questioned; both statuses are up for purchase, and little qualification or background is required. As noted above, an ONAC “medicine person” gets that title by paying $1000 to ONAC and receiving a card to prove their status. (Genuine Native American medicine people don’t call themselves by such titles, they are recognized as such by the community.) ONAC’s claims are based on the mistaken idea that simply being a member of a church that has gained a religious exemption gives special legal privileges to use substances that are illegal for others in any venue that one wishes. In reality, membership in a church or other organization is irrelevant to the issue of religious exemptions. The issue of membership never came up in the UDV and SD court cases. One does not have to be a member of those churches to participate in their ceremonies. Nor do members of the UDV and SD have the legal right to drink ayahuasca in any venue but the ceremonies of the church that has gained the exemption. The only legal context in which membership in a church is a factor in the right to use an entheogen is in three state laws governing peyote, and only one of those three state laws resemble what ONAC claims is the law of the land. In Kansas, peyote is legal for NAC members — but only in NAC ceremonies. In Texas, peyote is legal only for NAC members, in or out of NAC ceremony — but they must be of Native American heritage. In Wyoming alone, peyote is legal for NAC members of any race, and not necessarily in NAC ceremony. That Wyoming law, which pertains to peyote only, is the only law in the country that resembles the law that ONAC insists pertains to all entheogenic sacraments everywhere in the USA.
Marka