Native American Church
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Native American Church
Native American Church
USVA headstone emb-12.svg
Native American Church's symbol
ClassificationNative American
FounderQuanah Parker
Origin19th century
United States
SeparationsBig moon peyotism

The Native American Church (NAC), also known as Peyotism and Peyote Religion, is a Native American religion that teaches a combination of traditional Native American beliefs and Christianity, with sacramental use of the entheogen peyote.[1] The religion originated in the Oklahoma Territory (1890-1907) in the late nineteenth century, after peyote was introduced to the southern Great Plains from Mexico.[1][2][3] Today it is the most widespread indigenous religion among Native Americans in the United States (except Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians), Canada (specifically First Nations people in Saskatchewan and Alberta), and Mexico, with an estimated 250,000 adherents as of the late twentieth century.[4][5][6][7]


Peyote road
A peyote set such as this is used by the medicine man during the peyote ritual.
Peyote ceremony tipi

Historically, many denominations of mainstream Christianity made attempts to convert Native Americans to Christianity in the Western Hemisphere. These efforts were partially successful, for many Native American tribes reflect Christian creed, including the Native American Church. Although conversion to Christianity was a slow process, the tenets of the Native American Church were more readily accepted.[8]

Originally formed in the Oklahoma Territory, the Native American Church is monotheistic, believing in a supreme being, called the Great Spirit.[1] The tenets of the Native American Church regard "peyote" as a sacred and holy sacrament and use it as a means to communicate with the Great Spirit (God), also referred to as the Creator.[8]

Beliefs of the church

A prominent belief amongst church members is that all plants are purposefully created by the Great Spirit. This includes Peyote which was created for medicinal, spiritual, and healing purposes.[9] Disease and death are believed to be a result of an imbalance in the individual. Besides peyote, other sacred plants, prayer, and fasting are used to cure this imbalance. Use of Peyote is never for recreational purposes and the hallucinogenic effects of the plant are considered spiritual visions. To most Native Americans, visions are a communion with the metaphysical. However, not every member experiences hallucinogenic effects during peyote rituals. The plant is meant to heal or fix even social, personal, and communal problems. Members believe the plant is even safe for children and pregnant women.[10] Members also believe in the importance of helping the world in order to create peace, health, and freedom. They seek guidance from the Great Spirit in protecting the earth, continuing the ways of their ancestors, and caring for future generations. In addition, they practice inclusivity and new members are welcome to join the church.[11].

Relationship to Christianity

Many American Natives dislike the beliefs of Christianity because of the history between natives and Christian groups. Their attempts to take away American Natives' heritage and culture has left many unable to reconcile with Christianity. Meanwhile, other members seek to restore the relationship between the Church and Christians. They believe that forgiveness is important for the native concept, "right-walking." Most members believe that Jesus Christ and the Great Spirit are one and the same.[12]

Different "ways" of the church

Within the church, there is the "Half Moon" way and the "Cross Fire" way. There are differences between the two ways. For example, the Cross Fire way does not include tobacco in ceremonies and the Half Moon way does include tobacco. The Cross Fire way incorporates more Christian ideals like calling the leader a 'minister' and includes a Bible placed at the altar. Meanwhile, while the Half Moon way tends to emphasize retaining their tribe's earlier traditions and does not incorporate the Bible into meetings. However, Jesus Christ is not ignored by the Half Moon way, and Christian holidays are celebrated, including Christmas and Easter. Although there are a multitude of differences between the two ways, members of the church can attend either kind of meeting and some attend both.[13]

Ceremony and roles

Followers of the Native American Church have differing ceremonies, celebrations, and ways of practicing their religion. For example, among the Teton, the Cross Fire group uses the Bible for sermons, which are rejected by the Half Moon followers, though they each teach a similar Christian morality.[3] Ceremonies commonly last all night, beginning Saturday evening and ending early Sunday morning. Scripture reading, prayer, singing, and drumming are included.[1] In general, the Native American Church believes in one supreme God, the Great Spirit.

Ceremonies are generally held in a tipi and require a priest, pastor, or elder to conduct the service.[8] The conductor is referred to as the Roadman. The Roadman is assisted by a Fireman, whose task is to care for the holy fireplace, being sure that it burns consistently all night. The Roadman may use a prayer staff, a beaded and feathered gourd, a small drum, cedar, and his eagle feather as a means for conducting services. The Roadman's wife or other female relative prepares four sacramental foods and the "second breakfast" that are part of the church services. Her part takes place very early, between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning. The four sacramental foods are water, shredded beef or "sweet meat", corn mush, and some version of berry. To counterbalance the bitterness of the peyote consumed during the services, the sweet foods were added later. The second breakfast is like any other breakfast. It generally includes boiled eggs, toast, hash brown potatoes, coffee, and juice. This meal is served well after sunrise and just prior to the closing of the church services.

Church services are not regular Sunday occurrences but are held in accordance with special requests by a family for celebrating a birthday, or for a memorial or funeral service. Services begin at sundown on either a Friday or Saturday evening and end at sunrise. Thus, a participant "sits up" all night, giving up a full night's rest as part of a small sacrifice to the Great and Holy Spirit and his Son.

The church services culminate in a feast for the whole community the following day. Because peyote is a stimulant, all of the participating members are wide awake, so they, too, attend the feast. The need for sleep is generally felt in the late afternoon, particularly after the feast. Gifts are given to the Roadman and all his helpers by the sponsoring family at the feast to show deep appreciation for all his hard work."[8]

Common reasons for holding a service include: the desire to cure illness, birthday celebrations, Christian holidays, school graduations, and other significant life events.[14]


During church meetings, the members sing along with instruments, such as the water drum and a gourd rattle. The songs are meant to heal and are about the sacred. They speak of interconnectedness and being inclusive. Many songs are shared and common among all Native American Church communities, no matter the language the song was originally written in. Most of the songs end in the phrase "hey ney noh weh" which identifies the song as a peyote song and is similar to the phrase "Amen" spoken during a Christian prayer.

There are artists who are combining Native American Music with other American genres. For instance, A Tribe Called Red writes electronic dance music (EDM) inspired by the Native American Church culture. The songs are meant to inspire Native youth and spread the beauty of Native traditions.[15]


Along with the founding of the Native American Church came new artwork and art techniques. European trade materials such as beads and metal were incorporated into artwork. Therefore, the category of "peyote art" includes traditional and contemporary styles. Many art pieces are ritual instruments or for ceremonial settings. These objects of art include gourd rattles made of hardwoods, glass beads, leather fringe, and dyed horsehair. Furthermore, most objects, if it is associated with the church, are produced by men. There are also feather fans that can be made from hawk, golden eagle, mascot or other birds' feathers. These fans are one of the most important objects related to the church because they represent the bird symbolism in the religion. Moreover, there are also drum sticks and ritual staffs that have carvings of tipis, birds, stars, sun patterns, and other symbols important to the church. However, there are also non-instrumental art pieces such as paintings and jewelry.[16]

Persecution and law

As the United States government became more involved in the control of drugs, the Native American Church faced possible legal issues regarding their use of peyote.[1] The Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, also called the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, was passed to provide legal protection for the Church's use of the plant.[8]

The controversy over peyote resulted in its legal classification as a controlled drug in the United States. However, as a result of US v. Boyll and other federal rulings, members of the Native American Church are allowed to transport, possess, and use peyote for religious purposes. While such use has been declared legal without regard to race or tribal status in all US states other than Idaho and Texas, which have outlawed use by non-natives, the purchase of peyote from licensed distributors can only be made via permit by enrolled tribal members, who also must intend to use it for religious purposes only. [8] These distributors, located in Texas near the Mexican border, sell wild peyote gathered in its native range by licensed collectors. Cultivation of peyote is legal under the same circumstances as possession, where the cultivator must be able to prove that plants are for use in Native American Church ceremonies, or depending on the state, for general religious ceremonies.

The Neo-American Church tried to claim LSD and marijuana as sacraments, seeking protection similar to that afforded to peyote use by the Native American Church. The courts ruled against them. The Peyote Way Church of God's failed federal lawsuit was rendered partially successful when Arizona expanded permitted use of peyote to general bona fide religious purposes, as well as spiritual intent [17]. Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon also allow for general religious use.

Influential people

Quanah Parker is the individual most associated with the early history of Peyotism and the Native American Church. Quanah Parker was a Comanche and a chief that created the Half Moon way and taught the Half Moon way to other tribes. At first, he was a warrior that would fight any people attempting to invade territory. However, after becoming sick, he realized his anger towards Americans and Mexicans was wrong. He then became a successful politician and even befriended President Theodore Roosevelt. [18]

Other prominent figures in its development include Chevato, Jim Aton, John Wilson, and Jonathan Koshiway. These people, and many others, played important roles in the introduction and adoption of the Native American Church.[14]

Victor Griffin, known as the last chief of the Quapaw tribe, was noted for facilitating the incorporation of the Native American Church under Oklahoma law in 1911. He also helped spread the religion to some other related tribes in the region.

The Native American novelist N. Scott Momaday gives a highly accurate portrayal of the peyote service in his book House Made of Dawn.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Catherine Beyer. "Peyote and the Native American Church". Religion & Spirituality. Retrieved 2015.
  2. ^ Archived 20 June 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b "Native American Church". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2015.
  4. ^ "Native American Church". Retrieved 2015.
  5. ^ "World Religions & Spirituality - Native American Church". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  6. ^ "University of Virginia Library". 7 September 2006. Archived from the original on 14 December 2007. Retrieved 2011.
  7. ^ "'A Brief History of the Native American Church'". CSP. 1996.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains - NATIVE AMERICAN CHURCH". Retrieved 2017.
  9. ^ "Native American Churches". Oklevueha Native American Church. Retrieved 2019.
  10. ^ Jones, Peter N. (2007). "The Native American Church, Peyote, and Health: Expanding Consciousness for Healing Purposes". Contemporary Justice Review. 10 (4): 411. doi:10.1080/10282580701677477.
  11. ^ "Native American Churches". Oklevueha Native American Church. Retrieved 2019.
  12. ^ "Native American Churches". Oklevueha Native American Church. Retrieved 2019.
  13. ^ Catches, Vincent (1991). "Native American Church: The Half-Moon Way". Wicazo Sa Review. 7 (1): 17. doi:10.2307/140932.
  14. ^ a b "Native American Church - The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture". Retrieved 2017.
  15. ^ Poirier, Lisa (2018). "Makes Me Feel Glad That I'm Not Dead: Jim Pepper and Music of the Native American Church". Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. 30 (2): 120, 130. doi:10.3138/jrpc.2017-0003.
  16. ^ Swan, Daniel (1995). "SYMBOLS OF FAITH AND BELIEF: THE ART OF THE NATIVE AMERICAN CHURCH". Gilrease journal. 3 (2): 22.
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ "Native American Churches". Oklevueha Native American Church. Retrieved 2019.


  • Hayward, Robert. The Thirteenth Step: Ancient Solutions to the Contemporary Problems of Alcoholism and Addiction using the Timeless Wisdom of The Native American Church Ceremony. Native Son Publishers Inc., 2011. ISBN 0983638403. -- Describes the Native American Church Ceremony.
  • Stewart, Omer C. Peyote Religion: A History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

External links

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Music Scenes