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Group’s Use of Peyote Threatens Indian Tradition, Attorney Says

June 16, 1987

DALLAS (AP) _ Allowing an Arizona group to use the hallucinogenic cactus peyote in its ceremonies would threaten a way of life that American Indians have practiced for more than 700 years, a government attorney said Tuesday.

Attorneys made opening arguments in a lawsuit filed by the Peyote Way Church of God against the state of Texas and the federal government, demanding that it be allowed to use peyote at its commune near Klondyke, Ariz.

The group, composed primarily of non-Indians, has waged a five-year legal fight to obtain the drug without facing narcotics charges.

Only certified members of the Native American Church of North America, an umbrella group of 36 tribes representing about 250,000 Indians, can purchase peyote legally.

The government maintains that the Peyote Way church is a sham and that its members should not be allowed to use the plant.

The Native American Church, which opposes use of peyote by non-Indians and has aided the government in the current lawsuit, fears that the limited supply of the plant could be threatened if its use was expanded.

″Their practice is remarkably unchanged in those centuries,″ said Doug Becker, who is representing the state of Texas,

″It’s difficult for a white man to understand it. It’s not a religion, but a way of life. And they see their world as being jeopardized by these proceedings.″

About 25 Native American Church members attended the trial Tuesday.

Peyote Way attorney Mary O’Connor countered that the group was a church that adhered to the teachings of the Bible, the book of Mormon, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its own bylaws.

″The members worship peyote as an embodiment of God, a sacrament,″ she said, adding that they were willing to submit to the same regulations and restrictions that the Native American Church abides by.

″All we are trying to prove in this case is that the Peyote Way Church of God is a bona fide church and has the same rights as any other denomination,″ she said.

The first witness for Peyote Way testified Tuesday that the group″s founder - Immanuel Trujillo - possessed peyote in his New York home between September 1984 and November 1985.

John Pavloc, of Saugerties, N.Y., a 31-year police veteran, said Trujillo lived with him for a year and possessed several peyote plants.

He said that he had had reservations about the presence of illegal substances in his house but that New York Bureau of Criminal Investigations officials told him not to worry about Trujillo.

Under cross-examination, Pavloc admitted that Trujillo was known to use several aliases, a practice used by some criminals.

The case was filed in Texas in part because many registered dealers of peyote are located in the state, officials said. Peyote, a prickle-less cactus, grows along the Rio Grande.

Three members of the Peyote Way church were arrested in 1980 for possession of peyote in Richardson, a Dallas suburb. Charges against the trio were dropped after questions of illegal search and seizure arose, Becker said.

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