Responding to the Anti-Semitic Bigotry and Anti-Indigenous Colonialism of Decriminalize Nature’s Leadership

Recently a colleague forwarded a graphic that Decriminalize Nature’s leadership was spreading around listservs. This latest defamation campaign targets myself and River Styx co-directors Miriam Volat and Cody Swift using anti-semitic imagery and tropes as well as flat out lies and misinformation about us. The yellow stars in the images, which Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe, link to anti-Semitic Elders of Zion type Jewish control conspiracies that currently circulate in alt-right and neo-fascist circles in this country, and that the Nazis historically used so effectively to whip the German population into a frenzy of fear, anger, and hate.¹

Although Decriminalize Nature have waged attacks on me before, this latest bout of ugliness seems to be in response to the excellent fourth episode—“Mescaline”—of Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind” series on Netflix. The episode is actually largely supportive of DN’s work. However, it does critique their position on peyote as oblivious and insensitive to the numerous Native American leaders also powerfully portrayed and interviewed in that episode, who repeated their numerous calls to the movement to respect their leadership in the conservation of peyote that is in a state of collapse in the wild, and to leave peyote out of local and state decriminalization efforts. Cultivation of peyote in nurseries and greenhouses is part of their indigenous-led conservation effort, but because peyote takes ten years to mature, it is not a near term solution. Decriminalizing peyote outside of indigenous-led efforts will spike demand from the wild peyote gardens, the only source of peyote for the next decade.²

Thus, the major umbrella groups of the Native American Church who formed the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative issued an open letter in May of 2021 on how those in the psychedelic movement can operate in allyship and respect to Indigenous Peoples. The Wixarica Regional Council have also formally registered and updated their solidarity and opposition to decriminalization efforts (original Spanish and translated English). The General Assembly of the National Congress of American Indians, “the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments,” passed Resolution #SAC-21-038 in October of 2021, stating:

WHEREAS, the legalization and decriminalization of Peyote consumption beyond the already hundreds of thousands of members of the Native American Church will create a demand and market for Peyote that further threatens the existing wild population; and

WHEREAS, the movement to legalize and/or decriminalize Peyote use at the state and local government level directly threatens the availability of Peyote and therefore threatens the integrity of the ceremonial use of Peyote by AI/AN people and would be contrary to the doctrine of federal preemption, whereby federal law supersedes state law in this area.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) opposes the legalization and decriminalization of Peyote at the federal, state, and local government levels except for use “by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremonial purposes”, and further opposes the extraction of mescaline from the Peyote plant for any reason other than these ceremonial purposes; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NCAI calls upon the federal government to exercise its prerogatives under the doctrine of federal preemption to block state and local governments efforts to legalize and decriminalize Peyote use, in violation of AIRFA; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NCAI calls upon the White House Council on Native American Affairs, in coordination with the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency, and any additional federal departments and agencies with relevant responsibilities, to: (1) convene and conduct a review of federal programs to determine a culturally-sensitive approach to facilitating the protection of Peyote habitats and the restoration of Peyote populations in the wild; (2) identify funding to address the threats to the long- term viability of the Peyote plant; and (3) to address other impediments to the legitimate use of Peyote, such as cross-border restrictions; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NCAI opposes efforts by states and local governments to legalize, decriminalize, or otherwise authorize any and all uses of Peyote and its byproducts by non-American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/ANs) Peoples as it endangers AI/AN religious, cultural, and ceremonial practices; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NCAI calls upon state and local governments to accord the principles of respect and recognition to federal and tribal laws regarding the religious, cultural, and ceremonial significance of the Peyote plant to AI/AN Peoples, to respect the documented decline of the Peyote habitat and current efforts underway to protect Peyote from further decline, and to respect the clearly articulated congressional intent to protect the sacred plant as found in the American Indian Religious Freedom Act as amended;

DN’s leadership has chosen to not only completely ignore these urgent requests from major indigenous institutions on this continent, they are now via this graphic erasing and undermining their agency, authority, and autonomy by painting them as supposed tools of a grand scheme of ours to profit off synthetic mescaline by creating “scarcity” in peyote.

I am at a loss of where to begin in addressing the layers of lies and hate inherent in this latest attack. DN leadership are on a real bad trip slandering and spreading anti-Semitic paranoia and manipulating people’s fear and anger. As non-native allies, we—myself, Cody, Miriam and many others—are simply listening to and respecting the expressed wishes of the major indigenous institutions that represent peyote-using people on this continent, just as DN should be. We are not dictating or controlling anything. We are also leveraging the privileges we have to help shift change by putting resources at the disposal of these communities for them to best decide how to conserve their sacred medicine and ways. To date, DN has not put any resources into any community medicine conservation work that I’m aware of.

The main Native American Church umbrella organizations came together with a dream of purchasing and owning land in the peyote gardens in Texas, to be a hub where sustainable harvesting of peyote can be practiced; negotiations with neighboring ranchers for conservation easements can occur; as well as replanting of wild gardens via propagating young pups in a culturally appropriate nursery. This land fulfills the dreams and prayers of many peyote using people, that they would have direct ownership of land where their medicine comes from as a pilgrimage site also to pray and make offerings. River Styx donated funds to the nonprofit that the NAC umbrella organizations formed, the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative, which purchased the land. Neither River Styx or Dr. Bronner’s has any financial interest whatsoever in this land, nor do we have any financial ties to Journey Collab or any synthetic mescaline. The IPCI are also coordinating with tribes south of the border like the Wixarica and Yaqui, funding nurseries and other conservation efforts for tribes around the continent. Doubleblind recently published a good article about these indigenous-led efforts in historical context, alongside their current difficulties with DN.

Simply put, we are committed to supporting Native American sovereignty when it comes to conserving their medicine and sustaining their way of life, and this means not interfering with Native American direction and leadership. It’s past time that this country chose to not impose on, but rather listen and support, our First Nation elders.

Sharing my relevant history, my great-grandparents Berthold and Franziska Heilbronner were killed in the Holocaust in Germany, and our family soap factory was “Aryanized” by a population whipped into a frenzy of hate to target and scapegoat Jewish people with paranoid depictions like DN leadership are spreading. My grandfather Dr. Bronner came to the U.S. with nothing, and eventually launched his nonprofit All-One-God-Faith with the mission to unite the human race across religious and ethnic divides, seeing that the next Holocaust in a nuclear armed world would destroy us all. He began selling soaps on the side to support his life mission and passion. You can read our family’s story here. We honor his vision today at Dr. Bronner’s by capping executive compensation at five times our lowest paid fully-vested employee and give all profits not needed for the business to charities and causes we believe in. This includes supporting indigenous leadership and decision-making on biocultural medicine conservation projects they prioritize. The Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund is an indigenous decision-making body recently founded to be a primary vehicle for this work.

Shortly before my dad, Jim Bronner, died in 1998, against the advice of our financial advisers, he oversaw the transfer of 1,000 acres of land that was our only non-business asset. We were being urged to sell this land to cover the estate taxes we were facing from my granddad’s death the year prior. Instead, he along with my mom and Uncle Ralph gave it to the Boys and Girls Club of San Diego, which helps underprivileged, mostly Mexican-American, children in our region (Dr. Bronner’s workforce and management is in large part Mexican-American and much of our local charity work is focused on supporting Mexican-American communities). The Boys and Girls Club sold the land after we donated it to the Nature Conservancy and built another club to serve kids in the community of Valley Center, in east San Diego county. We have no current involvement with this land, it was a gift made free and clear; in the case of the NAC and IPCI, they made the purchase of land in the peyote gardens direct in the first place with funds donated free and clear by River Styx. Neither we nor River Styx have any ownership or financial interest in this land, anymore then the land we donated to the Boys and Girls Club.

I’m also deeply supportive of mestizo (mixed race) Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and displaced indigenous peoples reconnecting with their Indigenous heritage and ancestors while critiquing their European heritage; for too long that incredible Indigenous history and culture have been suppressed and denied, as something shameful or inferior to supposedly enlightened European culture that has wrought so much devastation and genocide in the Americas and around the world. We are living through a seismic shift correction that is playing out through individual people’s lives. Modern day Mexico is a largely mestizo country whose mestizo government continues to oppress Indigenous people in much the same way the American government has. The Zapatista uprising being a relatively recent reminder of this. As people work to reclaim the indigenous roots that they have lost, it is important to seek stewardship and guidance from the elders who continue to be the medicine keepers of these traditions; otherwise, they will continue to perpetuate the same forms of erasure that is rooted in settler colonialism. DN’s ongoing dismissal and undermining of the main institutions that represent peyote people both north and south of the border is replicating colonialist patterns, which this statement from the Wixarica Regional Council and incisive analysis from Chacruna makes clear. As the Lakota ceremonial leader Sandor Iron Rope has stated: “Finding token indigenous voices to undermine Bona Fide indigenous led organizations and institutions connected with traditional and community interests is a tried and true colonial tactic that we’ve seen throughout history, and is still happening today.”

At Dr. Bronner’s we are also deeply supportive of the community healing model at the core of the Decriminalize Nature ethos, leaving alone the lamentable personalities currently at the helm.  As I’ve written about in previous blog posts, the community healing and regulated access models should coexist and support each other, and I’m excited for Colorado to set the example and lead the way in this regard. While it was disappointing that we got deep sixed in the home stretch on 519 in California, our strong and diverse coalition will be back in support of Wiener’s new bill next year, that also prioritizes decriminalization and community healing alongside regulated access. Our coalition includes Mexican-American veteran and triple amputee Jose Martinez as well as Mexican-American ace and former DN lobbyist Anthony Molina, who rejoined the team this summer after separating from DN last year when their obnoxiousness became too much to deal with. Chacruna is a key organization we consult with, and we consult closely and listen to community input through various discussions with community stewards, such as Reggie Harris (founder of Oakland Hyphae), Monica Cadena (journalist), and Sizwe Andrew-Abakah and Mizan Alkebulan-Abakah (co-founders of Spearitwurx), on any substantive developments. Reggie and Monica have also been kind in using their platforms to inform the larger community of statewide and national initiatives in the psychedelic space while relaying community concerns and questions back to us.

While DN likes to try and paint the progressive New Approach PAC as the shill of industry interests based on relatively minor amounts of contributions from industry, its focus is to end mass incarceration and the drug war, and has provided at least some check on the not great legal cannabis industry that has emerged. We’ve all learned lessons from that to make sure regulated access programs in psychedelics has equity built in from the get-go, with provisions to keep a massive corporate takeover from happening. I don’t know what campaign Miracle-Gro (this was mentioned in the graphic) made a contribution to, but it was relatively small, and Dr. Bronner’s has spent more resources and effort to fight the ag-chemical machine and their scheme to genetically engineer major food crops to withstand huge amounts of the herbicides they sell than any other company on the planet. We are also a founding board member and partner of the Regenerative Organic Alliance and helped launch the Sun+Earth program for regenerative organic cannabis.

In the words of Yoda: “Anger, fear, aggression – the dark side of the Force are they.”  Be wary of those who use these to manipulate and twist truth to sew paranoia and lies. I like to remember Kipling’s “If” in these times, which my granddad loved and is on quart labels of our company’s lavender castile soap:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

I’ll be heading to Burning Man this week with our foamie homie crew—where we (foamie homies not Bronner’s) host the Zendo camp and blast love and foam on ecstatic dusty burners. In this spirit I want to close with a video featuring our resident love mystic T Love and the foamie homies showing the One Love vibration—that me and Dr. Bronner’s All-One family are all about.



¹ After receiving intense blowback, DN reportedly removed the yellow stars from the graphic in subsequent postings, but left intact their underlying Anti-Semitic and false narrative that people of Jewish descent (Miriam and myself, via my granddad) are manipulating and controlling indigenous organizations in a top down scheme in order to create scarcity in peyote so we can profit off synthetic mescaline. None of this is true.

² Non-natives can use San Pedro / Huachuma, another mescaline containing cacti that is relatively plentiful and not in a state of collapse like peyote in the wild. It’s also worth pointing out that no one is going to jail for growing peyote in the first place.

Photo courtesy of Luxworx

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David Bronner

David Bronner is Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s, the grandson of company founder, Emanuel Bronner, and a fifth-generation soap maker. He is a dedicated vegan and enjoys surfing and dancing late into the night.

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