Peyote shamans Leo, Raven and Moses Mercado (see CC #13, Grandfather Peyote) are being persecuted by government thugs in Northeastern Arizona, and desperately need the assistance of freedom lovers everywhere.
The Mercados are part of the Native American Church (NAC), a centuries-old organization dedicated to the traditions and sacraments of the peyote religion.
The NAC, and affiliated groups and individuals such as Mexico’s Huichol Indians who use peyote cacti to obtain visions and for personal growth, is supposed to be protected by America’s constitution and by state and federal statutes protecting religious expression.
Instead, peyotists have been ruthlessly attacked. The Mercados know this only too well.
They were victims of a massive raid by armed police in 1995. Officers swarmed their rural Arizona desert church site, destroying sacred tipis and stealing nearly a thousand peyote cacti, which are endangered and threatened species in much of their native range.
The Mercados were thrown in a jail dungeon, denied due process, and libeled by law enforcement officers.
They defiantly rebuilt their lives, planting new peyote gardens and constructing new tipis and sacred sites. Their Peyote Foundation continued to offer purification rituals, and networked with Huichol artists whose cacti-inspired visionary, colorful, hallucinatory art is highly valued by art collectors and anthropologists.
In January, 1999, gun-toting sheriff raiders returned to the Mercado homestead, again holding the family at gunpoint while serving an illegal search warrant. Computers, church donations, jewelry and thousands of peyote plants were stolen during this raid.
The Mercados have never been charged with a crime relating to the raid, which means they have few official avenues of asking police to return their property.
In December, 2000, county district attorney Carter Olson and other officials convinced the environmentally destructive mining company that owned the land on which Mercado lived to revoke the lease agreement between the mining company and the woman Mercado sublets his property from.
Officials threatened to charge the woman with drug trafficking, money laundering and other crimes, alleging that taking rent money from Mercado is equivalent to participating in an illegal conspiracy.
Mercado says he doesn’t sell peyote, that he never engages in any other illegal activity, and that his landlord was totally innocent as well.
Nevertheless, he and his family were served with an eviction notice, and now are sadly preparing to leave behind the saguaro, rabbit brush, tipis, peyote gardens, eagles, and streams that graced their church land.
“We are religious refugees forced because of our faith to flee, to save our lives in the land of the allegedly free,” Mercado said. “We have some sacred peyote that we have to keep alive, and our family needs a place to live where we can practice our religion. We have done nothing wrong. We live like people do when they have taken a vow of poverty and have given themselves over to a spiritual calling. We need your help. Grandfather peyote needs your help.”
Helping the Mercados is easy and fun. Their website, www.peyote.net, features ways to contribute to the Peyote Foundation by buying Huichol art and by other convenient methods.