Native American Church

How can the Native American Church help heal Cancer? 

    The mid 1800's was a time of great pain and suffering to all Native Americans who were confined to reservations. The pain and suffering was due to the loss of their homeland and individuality. Tribes were not allowed to speak their language, hunt, or practice their ceremonies which gave them guidance and balance. It was during this time of agony that peyote was introduced to Southwestern tribes, who were in need of spiritual uplifting and cultural strength. It may be because it provided an alternative to both tribal orientation and "missionary controlled versions of Christianity," that the peyote religion spread like wildfire among these tribes.
    In the 1800s, two new ceremonies were popular among Native Americans. One, the Ghost Dance, tried to bring back the old ways. The Ghost Dance disappeared after the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. The other was the peyote ceremony, which allowed a connection between traditional sacred practices and Christian elements. From the southwestern tribes, the ceremony diffused to the tribes of the Plains, Oklahoma, as well as other tribes.
    Peyote grows in the southwestern part of United States, mainly in Texas and Mexico. This plant is considered medicine by many Native American tribes. It is sacred and is venerated. Peyote ceremonies are held for healing dieases such as cancer, for baptisms, for funerals, for birthdays, or as part of a vision quest. Peyote people believe it heals and teaches righteousness. There are two formal ritual ways to eat peyote. One is by grating the peyote (like cheese) and adding water to make into paste or mud. The other is by consuming it in the form of tea.
    The ceremony or meeting is led by someone with leadership capabilities who was chosen to be the "Road Man." This person is in charge with the responsibility of overseeing the main elements of the meeting. During the ceremony, prayers and wishes are made for healing, guidance, and strength. These prayers are said for the individual that the ceremony was set up for. Many prayers and wishes are said in the ceremony by each individual person who is participating. These participants sing, pray, meditate, and consume peyote during all night meetings. Many people can attend the ceremony.
    Depending on the "road man," the meeting may take place in a home usually a designated hogan or a teepee. The meeting will usually have a moon-shaped altar (Figure 1). Items for the meeting include peyote (grated and tea), fire, water drum, gourd rattle, various feather fans, and prayer staff.
    Peyote people say that through prayer and believing an individual can heal his/her self without any medical procedures. However, there is a time when medical doctors are needed to assist the healing process such as in cancer. Medical doctors help heal more of the physical side, and the peyote meeting can help heal more of the spiritual side. It depends what type of healing the individual needs.

Figure 1: The half circle if sand represents the story of birth to death in this Native American ceremony.

A personal story of healing through peyote by Anonymous 

    The following story describes the way one young Native woman was helped by peyote:
    When my sister called me on the telephone and said that they were going to set up a peyote meeting for me in four days, I was nervous because I didn't know exactly what occurred during the meeting. I asked if I needed to get something for the ceremony. My sister replied, "Make sure you hurry up and get here to meet everyone before we start the meeting."
    All I knew about a peyote meeting, is that it takes a lot of time to prepare for and that there are certain things that need to be done in sequence. Also, I knew was that I would be sitting all night on the ground. This was the only knowledge that I had about a peyote meeting. So when my sister called to notify me that the meeting was going to be held in four days, it took me by surprise.
    At the time my sister notified me about the meeting, I was attending school far from home. When I got to the place where the meeting was being held, there were already many people standing around the coffee pot and campfire outside the teepee.
    Once I met the people, we all headed into the ceremonial teepee. During the ceremony, I went through the specific sequential steps, each step having to do with healing of my tumor and giving thanks to the creator up above for my presence. While in the ceremony there was a part of me that was scared of the unknown yet I still felt I was doing the right thing. I can't explain in words the feeling of comfort, strength, love, assurance, and peace of mind that I had in my heart, mind, body, and soul. Prior to the meeting, I went in the ceremony not knowing what I was going to do and had some feelings of doubt about praying to some higher being. However, I found out that prayer and believing can and do have the power of healing.


    Acceptance of the Native American church, a term used for the peyote religion, by the surrounding culture and by the US government has been a gradual and complex process. With the help of James Mooney, an anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution, the Native American Church was officially incorporated in 1918. Before the 1890s, there was no serious study or research done on peyote use among Native Americans.
    Mooney researched peyote meetings among the Kiowa in Oklahoma. He also went on to study peyote meetings on other reservations as well as its use by the Tarahumara in Mexico. In 1918 he testified in favor of Native American peyotists at the Congressional hearing.
    Nowadays, peyote sales are restricted by law to members of the Native American Church (NAC). It is estimated that the NAC has at least 250,000 members.

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