Peyote lands under threat from development

By Floyd Favel
Plains Cree

PAYNTON, Saskatchewan, Dec. 1, 2011

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Kelly Daniels is the president of the Native American Church of Canada whose music has been nominated and won numerous awards, most recently for best album in the peyote music category at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in November.

Daniel's CDs are released to help bring healing and awareness to our people about important issues and causes.

"We had a ceremony with our elders before we made CDs to ask for permission to record and the elders told us it's good but we have to work for our people," Daniels said.

Just days prior to winning the award for best album, Daniels attended the "Intercontinental Prayer for the Preservation and Sustainability of the Sacred Peyote Medicine" conference recently held in Chalmita, Mexico, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1.

Daniels, along with other Native American Church leaders from the United States, attended at the invitation of the Huichol Nation of Mexico.

Huichol call themselves Wixarrika and reside in the northern region of Mexico, the heart of the sacred peyote lands.

Daniels' trip was sponsored by the Sturgeon Lake First Nation. The purpose of the conference was to bring awareness to the threat that peyote lands are under from mining and agricultural development.

Peyote is a sacrament that is central to the beliefs and tenets of many indigenous nations in Mexico as well as members of the NAC in the United States and Canada.

The Wixarrika are one of the poorest and most traditional of the indigenous people of Mexico. The Wixarrika's inherent title to land is not recognized nor have treaties been made with the Mexican government.

This lack of respect for their inherent title to the land, lack of treaties, and their poverty, makes the land and its resources easily exploitable.

The Wixarrika are launching a public relations and media campaign to bring international awareness to the threat to their peyote lands.

Daniels feels this is important, but also that other indigenous environmental and political leaders and artists need to be involved as, "This is not only an issue of concern to peyote people but to all indigenous people who are trying to preserve and save their lands and their people."

One suggestion is to designate the land as a world heritage site or be turned into a national park.

The Wxarrika seek unity among indigenous people but, as in Canada and the United States, the government is buying off or attempting to buy out influential indigenous political and economic leaders to open the doors into wholesale resource development on these sacred lands.

In Canada, resource extraction and economic development is the mantra of the Harper government, in other words, the rape of Mother Earth.

The Canadian government has succeeded in bringing many indigenous leaders into this credo and many leaders and organizations are working with various interests in the destruction of their traditional lands.

The tar sands in Alberta is one example. Uranium mining and tar sands development in northern Saskatchewan is another, and the construction of hydro-electric dams in northern Quebec is another example.

One of the major mining companies that has a lot to gain in development of the peyote lands is Majestic Mining Corp., a Canadian-owned company.

Mining companies in the past have contaminated the land and its surrounding and the Wixarrika fear for their peyote. Majestic is one of about 30 companies who are seeking mining concessions and permits in this region.

Mining development is threatening a way of life and worship and an indigenous religion.

Daniels is from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation but resides on the Red Pheasant First Nations, his mother's home community. His family has followed the Peyote Way for many generations and he is passionate in bringing awareness of the fate of the peyote lands to the people of Canada and to the world.

Long ago, the mythical being Wasakaychak created this world, this island - Ministik as its called in the Cree language.

When he had finished creating this island, he asked the wolf to run around the world to see how big the land was. The wolf was old when he finally returned and he reported back to Wasakaychak how big this island was.

Wasakaychak was satisfied that the island was big enough for the people who would reside therein. This island, Turtle Island as some call it, an island which rests on the turtle's back, is the land the indigenous people were placed upon.

The threat to the survival of the peyote in the sacred lands in Mexico affects all of us as indigenous people of this island.

Favel is a writer, playwright and film producer.

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