Haskell Indian Nations University Native American Church

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 4 January 2019.

Phone: 785-749-8404
Email: registrar@haskell.edu
Website: http://www.haskell.edu/student-life/
History While the Native American Church Club at Haskell is relatively young, the ceremonial peyote traditions of the Native American Church have been around for over a century. (The source for the following information is "The Visionary Cactus Guide," website and "The Native American Church," website.) Use among Indians of the hallucinatory plant peyote came into the U.S. at about the time of the Civil War. The spread of the peyote ceremony was futhered by John Wilson, also known as Big Moon. Wilson was known for his ability to perform the Ghost Dance. While in a forest, tradition says, Wilson was enlightened and shown the way to lead his life and to maintain the ceremonial use of peyote and the associated teachings. Quanah Parker also influenced the Native American Church. He became interested in peyote while he was sick and thought to be dying. A medicine man came to see Parker and gave him peyote in the form of a tea; he recovered within just a few days. As a result, Parker gave up violence and began to spread teachings about peyote. In 1918, James Mooney from the Smithsonian Institution wrote the charter for the Native American Church so members could have rights to worship. In recent years, federal legislation has protected the ceremonial use of peyote in traditional Indian ceremonies. The Native American Church today has more than 250,000 members in North America. Thus the ritual use of this plant in places such as Haskell is held to fall within the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. Demographics The members of the club who attend the business meetings every week are mostly students, but when there is a prayer ceremony, participants range from infancy to old age. Description The club members meet in one of the buildings on campus. When there is a prayer ceremony, members erect a tepee large enough to seat about 40-50 people around the edge. Activities and Schedule The Native American Club at Haskell does not have a set day or time to meet. This club normally has a business meeting at 6:30 on Wednesday evenings, opening with prayer and following an agenda. There are fund-raising events once a month and prayer ceremonies as needed. Special Events The prayer ceremony takes place in a tepee in the middle of campus and lasts through the night. The tepee represents a mother’s womb. The supporting sticks are the ribs, and these are connected to the earth. From the outside the tops of the poles resemble a hand reaching up to Heaven. In the center of the worship space there is an altar of sand in the shape of a crescent moon, representing the road of life. Down the center of the altar, from tip to tip, runs a line representing the division between good and evil. On the road of life, one is either on the good side or the evil side, never in between. At nightfall, everyone lines up outside the entrance of the tepee as the leader of the meeting asks a blessing on the events that will occur. Members then proceed into the tepee and follow the inside perimeter in a clockwise pattern to take their seats. At the beginning of the meeting there is a brief explanation of what will happen. The ceremony begins with smoking. Each person receives a paper and some tabacco to roll a cigarette. Then a burning stick is passes around for everyone to light the cigarettes. After this, there is a moment where participants pray out loud for whatever they want. After prayer, peyote, known by Church members as “medicine,” is passed around. It is given in a powder form for eating and also in a tea. These are passed around the tepee at various times during the evening. Participants report that the peyote helps them feel closer to the Holy Spirit and fills them with peace. Participants sing to the accompaniment of a gourd rattle and a small drum. Most of the singing is in Native American languages, but English phrases such as “Jesus only” and “He’s the savior” are likely to be heard. Water is brought in twice during the night. The member designated as the “fireman," or the one in charge of the fire in the middle of the tepee, brings water in at midnight, and a woman brings it in at sunrise. The cup of water passes around the circle clockwise, and everyone drinks from the same cup. After the meeting is over the entire congregation stays for a meal so that they may discuss what happened during the night. Every person’s experience is different. The vomiting that often occurs signals cleansing and purification. Other members report visions and insights. No matter what experience the members have had, they seem to be deeply affected by the ceremony.