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Karuk Tribal Members Thwart Pot Growers’ Attempts to Desecrate Sacred Site
by Dan Bacher
Monday May 5th, 2014 9:42 AM
Members of the Karuk Tribe on the Klamath River recently thwarted an attempt by pot growers to desecrate a sacred site, Tishawnik.

In a press release, Karuk Tribe leaders said they are concerned that "new age religions or the false claims of associations with established religions could be used to desecrate Karuk sacred sites."

“While we acknowledge that peyote is considered a sacrament by the Native American Church, Marijuana has never been sacred to the Karuk People,” explained Leaf Hillman, Karuk Ceremonial Leader. ”I find it particularly ironic that we have to fight for our spiritual rights against those allegedly associated with the Native American Church, a forerunner for religious freedom.”

Photo of Tishawnik rainbow courtesy of Stormy Staats, Klamath Media.

Below is the Karuk Tribe's press release:


Karuk Tribal Members Thwart Pot Growers’ Attempts to Desecrate Sacred Site

Group Claiming Ties to Native American Church caught in the Act by Karuk Tribal Members

Orleans, CA – On Monday, April 28, Karuk Tribal members investigated suspicious behavior at a traditional ceremonial area while attempting to check their eel traps.

River access roads were blocked with newly installed cables and they found a stranger to the area setting up camp; he was strongly advised to remove the cables immediately. The area, known as Tishawnik, is a sacred dance ground where the Karuk People have held the annual Pikyavish, or World Renewal Ceremonies, since the beginning of time.

By early next morning, a half dozen vigilant tribal people acted to protect the sacred site and detained one of the men until the police could arrive. Tribal members were angry, upset, and mortified at what had been discovered. The fact that the two suspects on site claimed to be members of the Native American Church only deepened their alarm.

“We were all pretty shocked to find someone in the process of planting 600 pot plants,” said Josh Saxon, Karuk Tribal member.

When deputies arrived they met with these Tribal Members and the 38 year old male suspect from McKinleyville; his 22 year old son had already fled the scene.

When interviewed, the suspect told the deputies he was in the process of purchasing the property and it was in escrow. The suspect told the deputies he was growing the marijuana for medical reasons and had a medical marijuana recommendation. The deputies told the suspect he was trespassing as he did not own the property yet, and was out of compliance for medical marijuana based upon their investigation.

Deputies located and seized 615 growing marijuana plants, which were approximately two feet tall and all being grown in plastic pots. Deputies are seeking a warrant for the suspects’ arrest for trespassing, cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale.

This story may seem to have a happy end; however, the incident highlights the vulnerability of traditional ceremonial sites. The land in question in this case is privately owned, but for decades Karuk Tribal ceremonial leaders and members have continued its ancient use. While the Tribe has never sought permission for its ongoing ceremonial use of the property, the absentee owners have been aware of it and have taken no affirmative steps to prevent such access and practice.

Officially incorporated in 1918, the Native American Church was founded by James Mooney, a non-tribal anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution. It is possibly the most popular religion in Indian Country. The Church traditionally uses peyote as a sacrament and has won a Supreme Court case that protects practitioners who use and possess the drug from prosecution.

“These guys claimed to be part of the cannabis branch of the Native American Church, reported Saxon. Prior to the Sheriff’s deputies’ arrival, the suspect actually claimed that the pot was to help kids with cancer. “The more he talked the more creative his story became,” laughed one of the Tribal members present.

The Tribe is concerned that new age religions or the false claims of associations with established religions could be used to desecrate Karuk sacred sites. “While we acknowledge that peyote is considered a sacrament by the Native American Church, Marijuana has never been sacred to the Karuk People,” explained Leaf Hillman, Karuk Ceremonial Leader. ”I find it particularly ironic that we have to fight for our spiritual rights against those allegedly associated with the Native American Church, a forerunner for religious freedom.”

For many years, the Tribe has sought to acquire the property and has offered to purchase it at fair market value. The owners have refused. The shock of this latest outrage cannot swell the resources available for purchase, but the hope is high that one day the Tribe will be able to hold its age-old ceremonies without the threat of defilement.

For more information: Leaf Hillman or Joshua Saxon-Whitecrane, 530.627.3446; leafhillman [at] karuk.us, jsaxon [at] karuk.us