WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Once simple, the practice of American Indian medicine is becoming more complex as medicine men travel around the globe and laws governing use of feathers, herbs and plants become more stringent.

Anyone interested in practices or regulations is invited to attend the 60th annual conference of the Native American Church of North America this weekend in Window Rock, Ariz. The Navajo Nation will host as many as 250 medicine men from North and South America, said Emerson Jackson, president of the Arizona chapter of the Native American Church.

Events kick off Thursday with youth activities at the Navajo Tribal Fairgrounds and continues through Sunday. The Navajo Nation last hosted the event in 1985.

Although workshops, lectures and activities will be held on the Navajo reservation, the information spans state and tribal borders, Jackson said. Originating in Oklahoma, the Native American Church is a religious denomination that uses peyote to allow communion with God and to give healing.

"Whether it's Navajo or other tribes, it's all similar," he said. "With the Native American Church, everybody uses peyote, just like all Christianity uses the Bible."

People who use peyote, however, are subject to laws and regulations. The use of other herbs, plants and animal products also is governed by federal guidelines, said Francis Mitchell, a Farmington-based medicine man.

"The Native American Church is about the use of a plant called peyote," he said.


"It's used as a sacrament. All people using it are under the same guidelines to make sure it's used appropriately."

The weekend's agenda includes presentations by representatives of three federal departments, invited to the conference to give updates on rules.

A representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to talk Friday about the use of eagle feathers in sacred ceremonies. Possession of an eagle feather is illegal except by a member of a federally recognized tribe who holds a permit to use the feather for religious purposes.

Joe Early, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Native American liaison for the Albuquerque regional office, did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

A spokesman from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduled to speak Saturday regarding the use of plants and herbs, including sage and tobacco, Jackson said.

"Whatever the medicine man uses, there are rules about that," he said. "We want them to know what they can and can't have."

Also on Saturday's agenda is a discussion led by a representative from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who will relay information about transporting paraphernalia across borders, Jackson said.

"People are beginning to travel to other countries to practice medicine," Jackson said. "They need to know what they can bring in, what they can't."

Attendees of the conference also can expect an update on religious freedom in prisons, including the use of sweat lodges and other native practices.

The conference concludes with an all-night ceremony Saturday and prayer services Sunday. A sweat lodge will be available throughout the event and four tepee sites will be set up for Saturday's ceremony.

Alysa Landry: