Statement on Philanthropic Support of Peyote Conservation
is a small private foundation with a charitable, philanthropic mission to support nonprofits, organizations, and communities that have been historically stigmatized, helping to heal relationships to one another and our ecology. The intention of this letter is to clarify the purpose and scope of our support of Indigenous peoples in the conservation of their Peyote medicine, as well as to articulate our engagements with broader mental health and criminal justice related philanthropic strategies.
Our Support of Peyote Conservation
Since the inception of the Riverstyx Foundation in 2007, we have been keenly aware of the challenges facing Indigenous peoples, including mental health, substance abuse, and cultural loss. We were deeply concerned to learn that less than 0.2% of all philanthropic dollars go to support Native American communities, and as a foundation, we have long aspired to find a way to effectively support Indigenous peoples towards health and cultural well-being. In 2015, we learned about the Native American Church (“NAC”) as an intact and precious spiritual way of life for restoring community health and cultural identity, and it became very clear we had to support these ways however we could. In the Navajo or Dine world, Peyote is followed by the ABNDN (“azee bee nahgha of diné nation”).
Through conversations with Native American leadership, we learned that the greatest need was in addressing the growing concern around the sustainability and decline of Peyote populations, the need for medicine sovereignty, and spiritual stewardship of the Peyote plant in the land where it grows. We learned that the future of Peyote was directly related to the future of the NAC/ABNDN and their ability to address Indigenous community health in the long-term. This led to Riverstyx supporting the presidents of four of the largest Native American Churches at the time, then known as the National Council of NACs, in the creation of a comprehensive conservation strategy and new non-profit organization, the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative, or IPCI.
The 605-acre Homesite and the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative
The initial IPCI board determined that the first important conservation strategy was securing a home-site for the NAC/ABNDN community in the Peyote gardens in south Texas to support pilgrimage and prayer, as well as developing a hub for connecting to neighboring ranches for conservation and spiritual harvest. This led to Riverstyx purchasing, and immediately gifting the 605 acres outside of Mirando City, donated outright to IPCI for the use by all Indigenous Peyote peoples, under management of the IPCI Board of Directors.
Riverstyx maintains no authority, ownership, or financial ties to the land whatsoever nor any of the conservation activities of the IPCI Board. When Riverstyx Foundation gives financial support, we do not reserve any rights to the activities of those non-profit organizations. In the case of IPCI, we continue to offer consulting and fundraising support, which is common philanthropic practice for funding early-stage non-profits.
Our Support of Mental Health Research
Understanding that many of the crises facing the world today, including the environmental crises, stem from the western mind’s disconnection from that which is sacred, we set out to fund research into certain tools that could help address collective societal trauma, anxiety, addiction, and help individuals find healing and peace. This early research in 2008 at Johns Hopkins, New York University, and other research institutes, looked at the potential of psilocybin, found in mushrooms, to address anxiety in cancer-patients, for the treatment of alcoholism, and PTSD. We have continued to support exploration into these so-called ‘psychedelic therapies’ and their potential to provide relief from suffering in society.
Our support of this research aims to support health in mainstream societies, and out of respect to our Indigenous partners, we have not and will not support or invest in any efforts related to research into synthetic mescaline, or anything that encourages the use of the Peyote plant by those not entitled to use it under federal law.
In 2020, we were asked by Journey Co-Lab to assist in the development of their reciprocity Trust, which would ultimately go to benefit Indigenous communities. We provided recommendations on best practices for their structuring of a true philanthropic vehicle, but have maintained no ongoing relationship with Journey Co-Lab, and have made zero investments or financial commitments with them. In 2021, Sutton King needed to find a new home to follow her initial intention to support her Native communities and came on board to the Riverstyx Foundation. We are happy to continue to support her charitable efforts, and in no way does this tie us to Journey Co-Lab.
We view our support of psychedelic research as entirely distinct from and with no overlap with our support of Peyote conservation. We continue to try to encourage other philanthropists in our networks to direct their attention and funding towards Native/Indigenous conservation efforts.
Criminal Justice and Decriminalization/“Decrim”
For 14 years, Riverstyx Foundation has also worked to address mental health and substance abuse concerns by encouraging models that provide treatment and support instead of punishment in the criminal justice system. These strategies sometimes include what is called “full drug decrim,” which remove penalties for individuals, and is a strategy that has been shown to reduce violence and deaths from overdose, and increase engagement in and funding of mental health programs. Decriminalization should only be used as a strategy for shifting away from punishment and towards support, not encouraging increased use of substances.
In regards to this new wave of “entheogenic” or plant medicine decriminalization, Riverstyx Foundation, in respect for Native American communities, has worked tirelessly for the last 4 years to inform IPCI of these efforts, and to do whatever we can, at the request of IPCI Leadership, to advocate that Peyote NOT be included in these decriminalization efforts. We have been successful in helping to remove Peyote from the decriminalization efforts in Santa Cruz, Colorado, Oregon, and in California’s legislative efforts, as well as informing countless other campaigns on the importance of not decriminalizing Peyote through many informational webinars. This stance also comes from an understanding that Native Americans should have full responsibility for any regulatory or policy change regarding their Native medicines. We will continue to support protections for Native Americans in their relationship to and full sovereignty of their Peyote medicine, as requested. In no way do we stand to benefit financially from these efforts.
We know there is not a single voice in the many cultures and tribes that make up the larger NAC/ABNDN community. We understand that there are varying views amongst Native American communities, and aspire to be as inclusive as possible in our philanthropy. This includes listening and taking guidance from the IPCI Indigenous-led Board, as well as other grantees who work on Peyote conservation, including the Comanche NAC and conservation leadership of the Wixaritari (Huichol) in Mexico.
We want to reiterate that our support of Peyote conservation is a philanthropic effort exclusively for the benefit of bonafide Native American communities, and that Riverstyx Foundation in no way stands to benefit financially or otherwise from this work. It is an honor to be in support of Indigenous peoples and ways of life. We are new to being allies in this work, and though we aspire to always be in a respectful posture, we are open to listening and learning how we can be better partners ongoing into the future.
T. Cody Swift