What Makes A Native American Church Different?
Official Statement To Branch Leaders of Oklevueha Native American Church Concerning Legal Authorization for Native American Churches and the Branches of those Churches.
Because there has been some confusion about who can create Native American Churches and who can create branches of those churches, we seek to set in order the legal and moral authority by which these things can be done. We also desire to dispel confusion that has arisen because of the actions by some who may have been well-meaning, but do not understand the legal requirements involved.
The Native American Church in the broadest sense was created in order to protect the beliefs, culture, ceremonies and sacraments or medicines of the American Native Culture of North and South America. Because of efforts by some to destroy those things, many of the sacraments and medicines used through the centuries were banned and have since been listed as “Controlled Substances”. Membership in a specific Native American Church (there are many) protects the members legally in growing, using, possessing and transporting these medicines (items considered sacraments) by various tribes. These sacraments include Peyote, cannabis, San Pedro, Ayahuasca, Mushrooms and various other plants, herbs and other naturally occurring substances. All of these are provided by Mother Earth and Father Sky to be used with knowledge, reverence and understanding by all who live here for healing, spiritual enlightenment and personal growth.
Individual Native American Churches are only created when Tribal spiritual leaders bless that Church and/or the medicine person who cares for it. It is important to note that being blessed by a tribal medicine person does not give authority to the church leaders who have a blessed church to create other churches.
What this means for members of Oklevueha Native American Church and for the Branch Leaders of each branch is that no one can create branches of Oklevueha NAC except James Mooney or the other founders of the Church. Being a branch leader in ONAC does not give anyone the right to create additional branches. The members of any branch so created are not legally part of Oklevueha unless they also join Oklevueha NAC and they can not join as an Independent Branch member unless the branch they belong to is a legitimate branch of ONAC. If they are not recognized members of Oklevueha NAC, they are not protected by our church. We can not vouch for them or help in their defense if they get in trouble.
Additionally, branch leaders can assign someone in their branch as a medicine person for their branch only. It is important that anyone so assigned be trained and responsible for the safety and well-being of the people they work with whether it is in working with the medicines or sacraments or if they are in ceremony. Assigning someone as a medicine person who does not understand this serious responsibility and have the training and understanding to care for people under those conditions is careless and may open them up to legal problems if anything happens that is harmful or damaging to the participant’s relationships, health or emotional well-being. Those assigned as branch medicine people are not recognized as medicine people by the Oklevueha Native American Church leaders and members unless they are trained and approved by James and are issued a Medicine Card (which is different than a membership card).
These things are important to understand for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that, people who are not specifically part of a tribally blessed church or its authorized branches are not protected by the laws that were created to allow those churches to retain their culture, medicines, ceremonies and sacraments. Just because someone calls what they do a Native American Church does not give it legal standing and it does not give them legal protection in possessing or using sacraments that would otherwise be illegal. These protections do not extend to anyone who is not either a registered member of a legitimate Native American Church or a member of a Federally Recognized Tribe. If people who are not members are allowed to partake of these sacraments or even attend ceremonies where they are used, everyone there is in technical violation of the law and could be arrested. It is extremely important that you verify that everyone who attends or participates is a legitimate member of Oklevueha NAC.
Recent court cases have highlighted the fact that Native American Churches (particularly Oklevueha NAC) that have met these requirements are protected along with their members. Those who are not tribally blessed and those who claim association with those churches without authorization have no protection and in fact are often charged with fraud as well as possession and distribution of controlled substances. This puts their members in danger and should never happen. Please be sure your actions are consistent with these principles so that you and your members are protected morally and legally in all you do.