History, Principles and Key Practitioners:

The Native American Church (NAC) was created in 1918 by Oklahoma practitioners for the main and only purpose of providing legal protection from federal and state harassment of use of peyote. The NAC incorporated Christianity and Indian Beliefs into their system. They included Jesus Christ and after life but also included symbolic elements and beliefs that are exclusively Indian. The Native American Church was seen as a new source of power during a time of economic and mental struggle as well as deprivation. The system spread into communities in the 1930’s and also spread at Fort Defiance in 1938. The meetings where strongly focused on healing the individual. Usually they focused on one individual at a time. They used it to peyote and their ceremonies to reverse witchcraft and provide a sense of mental well being for the patient. In the 1930’s there was a rise of the peyote religion as a form of spiritualism and healing. There were certainly many negative reactions from the United Stated government and non-Peyotist Navajos because of the use of the drug and its possible impacts on the people partaking in the consumption of it. This led to a Tribal law against peyote in 1940, and the Tribe continued to make peyote illegal through 1963. Despite this law in between the 1950’s and the 1960’s the peyote religion grew rapidly. This time period coincided with the time after World War II and during this time period about 35% to 45% of Navajos in 1965 took part in the NAC meetings. The participants and the NAC claimed that it helped people with alcoholism, spirituality and healing.  It was noted that “Participants also claimed that peyote helped them to remain sober, which made the religion particularly appealing during years in which alcoholism presented a growing challenge to the Navajo people, especially in and around Gallup.” (Davies; pp.48) As a result of the reactions of the people the Tribal council legalized peyote use for NAC members in 1967. As time transitioned into the 1970’s about 40-50% of Navajos were taking part in peyote rituals (this was equivalent to roughly about 60,000 to 80,000 members). The numbers seemingly increased as time went on and the NAC was considered not only a church but a legitimate healing system among its followers. This led the NAC to raise$125,000 to establish security measures for the licensed peyote growers in Southern Texas in 1996. They wanted to maintain their key product, peyote that they used for their healing ceremonies. The NAC was also awarded a $26,000 grant from the Navajo Nation and the Diné NAC began constructing its first official church on the reservation. The NAC also gained much importance among the United States and took a huge step forward with its practices in 1997 when the Department of Defense (April 1997) established a new policy allowing military personnel to attend peyote ceremonies while on leave. As they became a bigger organization and healing system”The Native American Church took other steps to ensure that peyote’s healing power would pass on to future generations.”( Davies; pp.183) and the NAC has retained its status until present day.
            The key and main practitioners in the NAC are the Peyote Priest’s otherwise referred to as Roadmen. These practitioners operated independently and their higher power was only God and peyote. As the practitioners continued to practice they were “Formalized as the Native American Church of Navajoland, Peyotism continued to offer healing to thousands of Navajos. Previously, the Navajo leadership outlawed people and served as its primary opponent, but in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the tribal government acted as one of the NAC’s greatest protectors.” (181) But as the NAC grew power and favor amongst the Navajo people, they became more prominent as did the practitioners. The NAC even reached the point in which “Along with many Navajos, the leadership had come to view the peyote religion as not only an ‘Indian’, but also as a distinctly ‘Navajo’ Practice.” (181) this was a big stepping stone for the NAC and their healing system as a whole and as a distinct part of Navajo Medicine.