I became interested in The Native American Church after reading chapter two “Native American Religions” in our textbook. I had always been interested in Native American beliefs for two reasons: 1. the beliefs of the Native Americans teach being one with nature and 2. I am part Native American, but had a Christian upbringing, so I didn’t know that much about the Native American religion. After the research I have done for this paper, I have mixed views of how I feel towards The Native American Church; I will explain these feeling in my conclusion. I feel that I should fully explain the religion, so it’s easier to understand the mixed feelings that I have.
Native American Beliefs
From our textbook, Religions of the World, I was able to learn even more about my Native American background. Our textbook talks about how Native Americans respect the land and all the living creatures on the land. Our textbook also discussed how Native Americans seek visions by spending time away from their families and fasting. The textbook also briefly mentioned Peyote, which I will go into greater detail later in this paper. In chapter one of our textbook (pgs. 23-24) I learned more about totems, which are very important to the Native American people. The Native Americans believed that their totem, which is an animal of some sort, is a relative of theirs and they only kill this animal on special occasions as a way to get closer to their cousin.
While the textbook did teach me a lot about Native American beliefs, another book I came across was Under One Nation: The Triumph of the Native American Church. Throughout the book (pgs. 7-67), I learned even more of the Native American beliefs. I learned that the Native Americans see everyday as being Holy and that everything they do is for the Creator. In the introduction, on page 16, Reuben Snake speaks of man first discovering that he was created and what he had to do, “Everything that he did had to be directed towards honoring and respecting the Great Spirit, the creator of all things.” From early on, even the Native Americans believed that there was something bigger than them. They didn’t need Christians to tell them about God, but Christians felt that they needed to.
We all know the Christians left Europe so that they could freely practice their religions. You would think that these Christians would know how horrible it was to have other religions forced on them and would treat other people with the respect that they had not received in Europe, but you’d be wrong. The Christians were far from respectful of the Native American beliefs. One Nation Under God talks about how the Christians did everything possible to try and convert the Native American people. Some Native Americans even pretended to convert, but still practiced their Native American beliefs in private. Pages 7 – 8, explains how the Native America people were punished if they did not convert. The Christians changed their tactics from converting the Native American people to suppressing their religion. The Christians did this in various ways. First of all, children were removed from Native American homes and raised in a Christian atmosphere. These children were stripped of all of their Native American customs including clothing, language, and beliefs. When Native Americans refused to be suppressed Christian military were commanded to kill these Natives. With all the Christians hatred towards the Native American religions, you wouldn’t think there wouldn’t be any similarities between the two, but there are. The Native Americans belief that if they draw a picture or symbol, of something they want, in the sand the Creator will give them whatever they have asked for; this is very similar to the Christian belief of ask and ye shall receive. But, the Native Americans and Christians are even closer than that; both religions belief in Jesus and this leads us to The Native American Church.
Beginnings of the Native American Church
There is a wonderful article on the Wikipedia website called “The Native American Church” within that article in a section called The Natïve American Church Movement that describes how the Native American Church came to be. The founder, Quannah Parker was seriously injured in a battle and had a vision where Jesus came to him and told him he must take Peyote to his people and teach them a new religion. Jesus supposedly chose Quannah, because he had done so many things that were wrong in his life and this was a way of paying for those sins. The “movement” started in the 1890’s and The Native American Church was incorporated in 1918. Quannah’s most powerful words to The Native American Church were, “The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.” The Native American people practice their religions in Tipi’s, even to this day. I learned on pages 22 – 23 of Under One Nation that Natives set up their religious Tipi’s outside there home to where the sunrise will hit the top of the Tipi dead on; remember, everything the Creator gives them is sacred, even sunshine. The most important belief of The Native American Church is the use of Peyote.
First I would like to start off with a quote from The Native American Church website (http://www.nativeamericanchurch.com/peyote.html):
“Statement for understanding”
The use of ‘sacrament’ is contained within the community. Any other use of this would not be a correct use of ‘medicine’. While it could be said that the whole world is a community, which is true, it also can be seen that at the spiritual level this is not always true. By being part of community there are conditions of coherent belonging. There must be impeccability or a serious personal aim in that direction toward one’s personal community (Kiva). Responsibility to your personal spirit/soul is a sacred relationship. This relationship must be growing and alive in your everyday environment.
And as you know an understanding between the participants of a community is one of trust. This trust is founded upon time spent together and the shared effort of being one with the Creator as much as possible. As you see, the community is one of constant evolvement, adjustment and renewing…”
I learned so much about Peyote from One Nation Under God. The overall message that I received, after reading the book was that The Native American Church revolves around the use of Peyote. Of course, the Creator is very important and is the main reason they use Peyote. Native Americans use Peyote to become closer to the Creator. Native Americans believe that Peyote is a sacrament; the same way Christians believe that wine and bread are sacraments. In One Nation Under God there is a section that explains that the Native Americans belief that Peyote grew from the blood that Jesus lost while on the Cross. As I have mentioned above, the Native Americans believe that Peyote should be used because Jesus told them to. The Native Americans claim that Peyote can be used for healing purposes (pgs. 57 – 64) curing everything from blindness to those who have been crippled.
The Native Americans are unfortunately known for having additions and I would say this is a stereotypical remark, if I didn’t know family members who were alcoholics and also Natives. Peyote is also supposed to help with additions. Natives claim to have been cured of several additions after starting the use of Peyote (Smith and Snake pgs. 64 – 66). Peyote is where I lost interest in joining The Native American Church.
When I first read our textbook and learned that there was a church that joined the beliefs of Christians and Native Americans, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to learn more. Sadly, after doing this research, I could never see myself joining this church. To me, Peyote is a drug; this no doubt about it. In the book One Nation Under God, I read about people “needing” Peyote and being scared when they didn’t have any. One woman kept some in her house, in her car, and in her purse. If we, as Christians, brought wine with us everywhere we went, we would be called alcoholics.
I just can’t go along with a religion that uses a drug. I do agree with all the beliefs of treating the land as a sacred place and only killing animals when you need to and using every part afterwards. The Native Americans have so many wonderful beliefs, but their belief in Peyote discourages any thoughts I had originally had of wanting to join their church.
Smith H. and Snake R. (1996). One Nation Under God: The Triumph of the Native American Church. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Clear Light Publishers.
Hoppe L.M. and Woodward M.R. (1996). Religions of the World Tenth Edition.
Upper Saddle River: Pearson Practice Hall.
Native American Church. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_Church. Accessed on 18, November 2006.
Statement on Peyote. NATIVE AMERICAN CHURCH of Strawberry Plains Tennessee. Available at http://www.nativeamericanchurch.com/peyote.html. Accessed on 18, November 2006.