Huston Smith & Reuben Snake, editors,
One Nation Under God:
The Triumph of the Native American Church

(Clear Light, 1996)

One Nation Under God: The Triumph of the Native American Church is a dual-purpose book. It introduces you to the sacred ceremony of the church and explains the use of peyote, and it provides the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 (Public Law 103-344) and their simple-to-understand translation.

When the authors originally began this book, it was intended to gather support for their fight to legalize the use of peyote in all states. The amendments to PL 103-344 passed before the book was published, so it became about introducing people to the Native American Church.

I will be the first to admit that I have never experienced peyote or been to a Native American Church gathering. All I knew about the subject is what I have read or been told, which has not been much. There are not many books on the subject. I was under the impression that peyote produced wild hallucinations and that is why it was outlawed. However, the testimonials of the church members reflect otherwise.

After a foreword by Senator Daniel K. Inouye, preface by Huston Smith and introduction by Reuben Snake, the book begins in earnest. The first 71 pages are "Voices of the Native American Church," testimonials in which the church members speak on topics ranging from "Women & the Feminine" and "Children & the Family" to "Religious Sentiments: Reverence, Humility, Awe & Love" and "Bereavement & Death." They cover practically every aspect of life.

This is a beautiful, extremely moving section. The overall tone is one devout spirituality and devotion. They express the church's moral requirements of prayer, service, abstinence from alcohol, honesty, taking care of your family and being economically self-sufficient.

The second part of the book explains about peyote and tells how the ceremony is executed. The third part delves into the issues surrounding peyote: how it is classified and the legality of substance abuse. Part four relates the war between the church and the courts. Part five provides the amendment to PL 103-344.

The epilogue is a sad, yet spiritually uplifting tribute to Reuben Snake, who died in 1993. It tells about his final days and his request to go home from the hospital and have one last church gathering.

Snake, a national political leader and elder of the Winnebago (Hochunk) tribe, was baptized on Easter morning in 1939. He was given the name Kikawunga, which means "To Rise Up." He understood his name to mean that he was supposed to "help resurrect the heritage" of the Hochunks. So he did. You can read all about him in Reuben Snake, Your Humble Serpent: Indian Visionary & Activist, reviewed in the biography section.

Huston Smith is the author of The World's Religions, which has been the most widely used textbook for world religion courses for the past 30 years. His other books include Search for America and Beyond the Post-Modern Mind.

One Nation Under God: The Triumph of the Native American Church belongs in every Native American collection. If you have any interest in Native American spirituality or the freedom of religion you need to read it. I enjoyed it and found it extremely educational.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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