By Sussan Yáñez, founder of Visionaries Gathering. This original publication appeared in Spanish in the Life As Ceremony journal, www.lifeasceremony.org and has been translated by the author. You can see the Spanish version in Sussan's portfolio at: www.renaturalize.org in the online PDF document.
Appreciated siblings, companions and friends;
I have to start by introducing myself.
I have chosen to present myself by the name Sussan Yáñez, these being the names normally ignored by the patriarchal governments and institutions throughout my childhood. I was born in the Lafken Mapu, in a Spanish-speaking country that believes itself to be South American Europe, in which my mother, dear warrior who, after living the unbearable, and after difficult lessons, knew how to love us, her children; convinced me from a young age that I had only English, German and Spanish blood. Viña del Mar is a city where many tourists arrive, and having moved at the age of eight with my family to the unceeded territories of the Haudenosaunee, Mohawk and Inuktitut peoples, in an even larger city known as Montreal, and then followed with the separation of my parents due to domestic violence, I succumbed to a bleak period of which I carry very few memories. At eleven years old, I waged war against my own body, which I assaulted and abused, as well as I mistreated for eight years in a row. Pyromania, depression, nymphomania, depression, substance use disorder, depression, alcoholism, depression, low self-esteem, depression, obesity, depression, eating disorder, depression, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, depression. Without wanting to dismiss those who live daily with these clinical conditions, the only official diagnosis I received was depression, but I had daily problems with all those different conditions with which I feel identified. Very stormy years for a teenage girl growing up in a world outside the lands that called her to be, but also superficial in a material profanity.
At the age of eighteen, I returned to the Wallmapu, wanting to know of my ancestors, those roots that I wore on my face, seeing that, at raves, I was often asked if I was originally from indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.. Because my cheekbones, the tone of my skin and the thickness of my hair spoke more than my first and last names. There, returning to the latitudes of the pehuén, I found a wire to the ground: I became pregnant, being single, in love with a man with a wounded heart, wounded mind and wounded spirit, of whom I still maintain faith can heal. And not because I blame myself for becoming a victim, but because my daughter, her daughter, carries that blood memory in part. She was born for a reason beyond my understanding, and while I will not tolerate further mistreatment of our personas, while I left the side of who was a danger, fleeing in great strides, today I can wish him healing in the distance, from the depths of my heart. For a love that was yesterday, but also for the love in the offspring, so that my daughter may be freed from the inheritance of parental pain. I cannot deny the teachings of connecting with the land bestowed on me by Sebastian, an expert local of a precordilleran town, who knew the valleys and their fruits like the back of his hand. And I can't deny how his presence in my life brought me the first period of sobriety that I cultivated after six years of daily substance use.
In 2016, being a single mother and studying naturopathy in Santiago, working as an autonomous seller of Natura and working in a bookstore, my mother, who traveled from Montreal to Limache to help me with my daughter, advised me to return to Canada, since we had already obtained dual citizenship. And my brother, who had moved to the unceeded Coast Salish territories, in Vancouver, invited us. That's how I landed at an airport where a Totem Pole welcomed us with open arms. From there, I knew I was where I had to be.
The healing of my being has since been my total focus, where, in 2017, I was able to attend for the first time ceremonies of sweatlodge, sun dance, and it was also when I came across the medicines I once considered as drugs, but this time with that sacred container of prayer in ceremony. That year was a brutal encounter with myself, where opening my heart completely and suffering all that I had been omitting was the beginning of my intentional decolonization.
Then, having become a student, which was a decision also made in prayers through fasts, the dance of oppressions to which my whole life had been exposed was revealed to me, as well as the privileges that I have today in being able to take some space. But the way with the grandparents and grandmothers of medicine, with those traditional storytellers who give tradition with their respite from life, as well as with the few Indigenous scholars that I have had the blessing of having as teachers, have taught me that taking space must inevitably be associated with making space, in order to be in accordance to being equal to all our relations. And this is how my own learning has been based on theorizing to practice, or making of practice theory, so that the words that are written do not fall in half empty, as when the mind grows larger above the soul and body, and is blinded by not taking into account its surroundings.
Now, coming to this day, as I write them from unceeded territories Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, after a global pandemic, either initiated by men of "perceived power", or rather a reminder sent by our powerful life-creating mother nature, that we have allowed sociopaths to lead us, who have her exhausted. And now, infinitely grateful for how the Black Lives Matter movement has given us and will continue to teach us about anti-racist and anti-discriminatory approaches, I want to expand a little bit about the difficult conversations of our ways of healing, especially at a historic time when there are efforts to decriminalize all psychoactive substances in both, the U.S. and Canada. We know that our healing is necessary to involution, evolve, and transvolute beyond the systems of oppression that have been educated to us, which have mostly been internalized into everyday behaviors that go unnoticed unless they are clearly called out.
It is important to always remember the root of a movement, as that determines the development and scope of all its fruits. As they say in the article “The psychedelic renaissance and the limitations of a White-dominant medical framework: A call for indigenous and ethnic minority inclusion”:
“Cultural appropriation was prolific in the “hippie counterculture” of the 1950s and 1960s, which adopted many aspects of Black culture, including slang (i.e., the word “hep,” meaning “with it” and “fashionable”; Mailer, 1957). Psychedelic drug use played a central role among hippies, whose cultural revolution was viewed as a commitment to “transforming themselves through drugs, music, travel, and spiritualties borrowed from other populations” (Saldanha, 2007). This approach not only ignores the roots and contribution of indigenous practices, but also precludes the inclusion of people of color in its ideals and advances the Western value of individualism over the collective good.” (2020)[i]
I have been fortunate to encounter several alternative and natural forms of healing since I arrived in the unceded territories of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), xwmskwəy̓əm (Musqueam) and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations, in territories politically known as British Columbia, which has allowed my growth, forgiveness and inner peace to be promoted. Through these communities, and particularly I'm thinking of the Blessed Coast Festival, Just Dance - Vancouver, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference, I was redirected to forms of healing in ceremonies or spaces led by Indigenous elders. Unfortunately, these communities previously mentioned, seem to be privileged inheritors of the "hippie" wave... George, J. R., Michaels, T. I., Sevelius, J., & Williams, M. T keep saying:
"Despite hippies’ fascination with African American and Native American people, both groups were excluded from the counterculture through the perpetuation of negative stereotypes and the movement’s overly simplistic understanding of America’s racist history (Lemke-Santangelo, 2010). In fact, the hippie movement itself was at odds with the “exoticism” it idolized, claiming to embrace the spiritualism afforded by psychedelics while simultaneously reifying racial stereotypes and existing power structures (Saldanha, 2007)."
There is much content about the intersectional and indigenous approaches to traditional knowledge, but there is only very recent works published specifically on oppressive psychedelic behavior, because they remain conversations part of the oral traditions of the Indigenous elders who first offered the medicines to "foreigners". Although research in medicinal plants is not, from a Western perspective equivalent to human research, research in sacred plants perpetuates a betrayal from the Western communities towards the Indigenous communities through biopiracy.
The master plants are peoples for the bearers of knowledge, ancestors of the Indigenous communities, so that, although this particular phrase is heavy and shocking, the commercialization and globalization of sacred medicines and visionary plants is equivalent to human traffic. Let us take the example of Aotearoa, which recently granted legal human rights to a river because "the local Maorí tribe of Whanganui on the North Island has fought for the recognition of its river, the third largest in New Zealand, as an ancestor for 140 years". [ii] There are traditional protocols to ask permission to do certain things, millennial epistemologies based on relational reciprocities, ancient Indigenous and African sciences that have been excluded from the intellectual hierarchy of universities, pretending that academics know better than the medicine elders; by people who think that they can hold spaces with the medicines without having the proper traditional training.
With the Decriminalize Nature movements in the US and in Canada, led by the Canadian Psychedelic Association here in these unceded territories where I live, we should think about the positions we have and/or want to have as visitors, uninvited guests or new-age settlers, and what it means to use medicines from other cultures, of other sciences that are not taken into account to proceed with the perceived healing that the human population needs. It is necessary to be very attentive to the effects that the psychedelic community has had on our communities before wanting to bring solutions, without consulting the affected populations:
“While “psychedelics” were often demonized in the mainstream media, the hippie movement did not suffer the same consequences as did people of color for recreational drug use. Instead, the “hippie movement” is mistakenly credited as both the origin of psychedelic medicine and more broadly, as being an “innovative” force of social change that significantly altered American values (McClure, 1992). The White hippie narrative records psychedelic drug use for recreation, self-exploration, and transcendental experiential purposes (Davis & Munoz, 1968; McClure, 1992; Saldanha, 2007); however, African Americans have been stamped with the cultural reputation and false stereotype of criminal people believed to sell and abuse drugs (Williams, Gooden, & Davis, 2012).”
A need for relational conscientization (awareness) is evident in communities that advocate for unconventional healing versus allopathic medicine and we need to make more room for the voices of traditional medicine grandfathers and grandmothers to lead these issues, and not just be included, or made visible, but be given authority over these matters.
While the psychedelic movement aims to heal trauma and resolve the future through liberations, one individual at a time through biocultural appropriations, it reproduces exactly the same damage in African and Indigenous human and plant populations by wanting to bring a superficial bandage to states of mental health and substance use disorders (mainly known as addictions) and other physical disorders, while these health conditions were initially incurred or inherited because of the same methods with which they want to spread these medicines of vision, that is, with extractive Westerners methods whom do not take into account a relational reciprocity. They want to heal us with the same sword that wounded our ancestors, disguising it as a tool of light, reproducing exactly the same ideology of colonization in the era of "enlightenment".
We must remember that cocoa, tobacco and coffee are all and were sacred psychoactive medicinal plants that have been converted into commodities of daily consumption, of which I am also guilty, thus diluting traditions and weakening the cultures of their origins. This just mentioned bounces between my mind and my heart as I make a cup of coffee with coconut oil and maple syrup... It pains me to have to fight grief in my lungs, deep pain that has been with me for a few years. Tobacco was the first substance I started to misuse at the age of eleven. And it's a daily struggle to heal my relationship with this medicine. Because I use it to pray, and the window in which I go on to abuse medicine and my body is such an open wound, because so I escape my emotions, at the same time as I connect with my ancestors. This double relationship to which I am exposed, as a person of mixed ancestralities, being visibly a person of color, is the same cause of my torment today. Because not only do I understand that I hurt my body, but I also understand that I disrespect my ancestors, while I long to sustain something that materializes my connection with them, but I also step to disrespect the spirit of medicine itself, and so also to the ancients ones who cultivated the seed. I don't want my daughter to struggle every day to heal her relationship with medicines within a system that doesn't teach us respect. As well as sugar, native cane transformed by enslaving minds into a product of high toxicity, high addictive rate, whom today, people of privilege avoid, but that is still present in our most disadvantaged communities, because it is "economic", and continues to cause health problems. In fact, sweet food intake is another one of my struggles, such as coffee consumption... So, how can we be confident that there will be a sense of responsibility for the care of sacred medicines within a society that continues to perpetuate inuquities within countries considered to be developed?
Western academic research categorized psychedelic was initiated by Euro-American men in the 1950s and has remained predominantly "white" for 70 years. Narratives about medicinal plants have overlooked the sciences, knowledge and experiences of thousands of years of people of color all of this time. No one has discovered here forms of interpersonal liberation, just as they did not discover America, they have only stolen and plundered ancestral knowledge. These historical moments require the recognition of the ancestral laws, traditions and protocols so as not to reproduce the same exclutionary and discriminatory errors.
The decriminalization of medicinal plants and their chemical counterparts is not the answer.
We must first decriminalize human beings, before plants, so that those who must be included in the conversations of the use and management of plants have the right space to do so.
We must value what is not approved by universities, that which is not certified, but what have been knowledges passed down through thousands of generations by ancestral lineages.
We must defund the police, the surveillance, and even social workers, so that they stop assimilating us everywhere to mentalities that make us believe that we are also settlers...
Because to take back the feathers, drums, plants, and sacred circles, claiming our identities and decolonizations as well as that of our peers, without understanding what is the land we tread, nor the languages, the cultures and all those gifts that it has provided, remains a way of doing things disconnected and unrooted from the true history that was not shared by the conquerors who educated us. Positioning ourselves in our walk is key to being able to truly heal with that love and devotion shared to us by the medicines and the grandmothers and grandfathers of medicines.
To decolonize us, to heal us,
We must protect the ancestral.
We must protect the sacred.
The oppressed, and I include myself, do not need a clinical framework based on Western ideology, to be comfortable in a destructive world, we need a profound change from the inside out. While medicines cause this within us, we cannot pretend to help resolve the damage of oppression as we continue to oppress.
According to the Canadian website of the Decriminalize Nature movement, "the decriminalization does not authorize recreational use or retail marketing. It simply reduces people's risk of arrest for using natural substances that can treat common mental health conditions." But, still, this does not ensure that people of color will be less discriminated against. Even so, this does not prevent the existence of an abusive supremacy of the ancestral sacraments. Even so, doors open to a greater number of studies being reproduced with medicines considered sacred, where the laboratory only decorticates in its dogmatic Western mentality and fragments the sacred into a good of clinical consumption, which is also discriminatory. Populations with substance use disorders (addictions) are used to mobilize decriminalization, but the reality shows that it will not be addicts who live on the streets who will benefit from these medicines, because structurally and institutionally, they are people stolen from their humanity, who mostly live in spaces excluded from the law of the dominant country. As academic Geraldine Pratt says, spaces of exclusion exist and are reinforced to benefit a colonizing system.
I believe that taking examples of colonizing countries, such as Portugal or the Netherlands to apply in uceded territories, is a monumental mistake in the process that attempts to solve the traumas inflicted by settlers. Instead of trying to solve problems with the same tools that have caused trauma, it is time to reconsider other structures of human organization and take into account the ancestral laws, protocols and traditions and even more with regard to the use and management of these sacred medicines,including psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote, el iboga, san pedro, floripondio and all those plants of vision and derivatives that the laboratory has copied.
This leads me to briefly mention the article of which I was initially going to publish in this Spanish edition of the magazine, but that, by trusting the traditional authorities, the ancestors, the guardians of medicines, the traditional grandparents bearing knowledge, the singers, the bridges between the physical and spiritual plane, I will not publish until I ensure that what I mention and share of the ancestral wisdom of Indigenous nations truly represents what the nation itself wants to say and share, allowing them to have the last word on my writings. This is about the work I started through Quest University Canada, in unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh nation, with a Mara'akame elder with the permission of the Ethics and Research Board of the institution. My respect for my oral agreements with the authorities is an offering to the common good above my personal perception of urgency, and it attempts to infiltrate the academic use of the search for knowledge with a relational respect. This is a minimal risked journalism project called "How can we embody a healthy curiosity around psychoactive medicinal plants of Indigenous ceremonies?" in an independent study called "Immersive Indigenous Laws, Protocols and Traditions" in which I spoke to a grandfather Mara'akame, traditional doctor of the Wixarika Nation who works with medicine ancestrally known as Hikuri, but is today known as peyote. This was inspired by the problem I have noticed in our communities of peoples who appropriate indigenous sacred medicines and hold ceremonies without proper training to do so. I understand that all medicines belong to all people and are destined to be shared: this is one of the fundamental truths about healing; yet, to believe that one can work with plants of vision by holding a ceremonial space at the service of the people without having good relations with them first is cultural genocide.
I understand that this will annoy some people, however, by situating myself as a visitor on unceded territories and seeing the repercussions of colonialism on the modern societies to which we belong, I can only share my cries at the desecrated heritage of the elders. Personally, I have seen the impact on people who attend ceremonies where, from the power dynamics, people perform the ceremony superficially, fulfilling only their own ego. As a person who walks through several worlds, I feel a responsibility to share how little I know about the truth of what good relationships can be like. One of the things I learned during my journey in Náayeri and Wixárika territories is that the pace at which we do things is critical to having impacting results. As Grandpa said, doing things without pressure is essential to leave lasting footprints, so that other people can also find their way. This means, dear friends, that one is not ready to do ceremonies after receiving some visions of the medicine or after 2 or 3 years of eating medicine. There are several practices that have an epistemological methodology that requires a lot of time and dedication, but also practice and devotion, a life-long commitment.
I need to explain that I have also experienced a deep healing of a medicine session in a therapeutic environment, under the clinical structures that scientific organizations are developing. But that mainly reflects the individual path I walk, seeing that I was able to free myself from the structure that they wanted to impose on me and meet the ancestors. I must mention that the list of music compiled by John Hopkins University research, being mostly classical music of European ancestry, was more traumatic than appeasing. The languages and songs of medicines do not carry the violence of the colonizer, and that list, is psychedelic violence.
I had several experiences that led me to medicines and, yes, the medicines speak to us, as do the elements. However, our interpretation of the tests that they make us pass cannot be clear without a traditional teacher to guide us, recognizing that we know little, and maintaining a cultural humility, but especially when we are far from the sacred places related to medicines, in the confusion of cities... This has led me to deepen my understanding of the relational aspect of non-extractive and land-based ways of learning and made me harvest corn, make tamales, listen to stories, fast on a mountain, offer prayers, travel to the Sierra Madre, lose my way to and from sacred sites and talk to the traditional authorities of the Wixarika Nation to ask permission to go ahead with that project, and have a lot of patience, to this day, just as I have not yet received an answer about the article I wanted to publish here.
I agree that these medicines have the potential to change every individual who comes across them, but I question whether they should be accessible to everyone as soon as possible, especially now that they have been recognized for their healing abilities by the scientific communities and have been promoted to be decriminalized. Let us bear in mind that they were illegal in the first place, because Indigenous peoples used them, when colonialism and genocide were openly visible by forbidding the Indigenous peoples from gifting their culture to their descendants. The repercussions of these past governmental decisions are immeasurable as the same newer generations of Indigenous peoples lose their languages and sacred practices under the task of education.
So, instead of trying to preach that medicines become accessible to all, without the scientific Western reference frameworks taking into account the relational differences that exist in the cosmologies that surround them,why not try to honor thebearers of knowledge and medicine and their wisdom so that things can be done on a good path and last? Why not try to do things differently? At a different rate that does not meet the colonial consumerist pressure of immediate satisfaction?
It is about the conscientization (awareness) against the colonial mentality still in force of the extractive ways of doing things, even when our pain yells at us that we need something above the good of others.
There is enough evidence that developing our connection to the earth is our basis of healing, and that means recognizing the stories of the lands in which we live and honoring those ancestral relationships with our actions. Perhaps, for this moment when our mother transforms, after centuries of mistreatment, it is a time to pause, to refrain from asking for more, and to concentrate on repairing the bonds that bind us to her, without demanding more than we can deliver.
I would then like to offer an invitation to recognize the responsibility of our personal, visible and invisible elections, public and non-public, over small and large things, so that social justice and decolonization are prioritized. In better words, a relational conscientization is absolutely necessary to move forward, which decentralizes the focus on the colonizer, but puts it on maintaining reciprocal relations, as Margaret Kovach, an academic of Cree/Saulteaux ancestry, puts it in her book "Indigenous Methodologies, Characteristics , Conversations and Contexts".[iii]
References [i] George, J. R., Michaels, T.I., Sevelius, J., & Williams, M.T. (2020). The psychedelic renaissance and the limitations of a White-dominant medical framework: A call for indigenous and ethnic minority inclusion. Journal of Psychedelic Studies, 4(1), 4-15. [ii] The Guardian (2020) Consulted online on June 12, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being#:~:text=In%20a%20world%2Dfirst%20a,an%20ancestor%20for%20140%20years. [iii] Kovach, M. (2010). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. University of Toronto Press.