Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund To Raise $20 Million In Support Of Indigenous-Led ‘Psychedelic’ Projects

Peyote is one of five keystone medicines that the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund is working … [+] to help preserve by supporting Indigenous-led projects like the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative. Other keystone medicines include mushrooms, ayahuasca, iboga, and toad.

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Psychedelics may offer a new paradigm in mental healthcare treatment, but for the indigenous communities around the world that have used plant, animal, and fungi medicines since time immemorial, the sudden rush to commodify these entities is both troubling and disruptive.

A newly launched Indigenous-led non-profit organization wants to help strengthen Indigenous communities’ efforts to preserve their traditional medicines, including ayahuasca, toad, iboga, peyote, and mushrooms; their access to which is being increasingly threatened by climate change, commercialization, overharvesting, and cultural appropriation.

Founded with the support of Riverstyx Foundation, Dr. Bronner’s, and other seed funders, the Indigenous Medicine Conservation (IMC) Fund is looking to raise $20 million in 2022 to support several different projects seeking to protect what it calls “keystone” medicines, medicines that are sacred to traditional ways of life and healing practices among specific indigenous groups around the globe.

Prioritizing Kinship, Not Transactions

Program manager Sutton King and co-director Miriam Volat acknowledge that as the psychedelic industry has grown, companies have become increasingly interested in consulting with indigenous peoples on specific medicines, whether to obtain knowledge, offer financial support, or both—behavior that is neither welcome nor in line with Indigenous protocols, which King notes are not transactional but based on kinship.

“We have a potential issue here where we have many for-profit companies wanting to come into Indigenous communities and enact ‘reciprocity’,” says King, an Indigenous rights activist, holding her fingers up as air quotes, “when it’s really a guise for something more transactional. we [at IMC Fund] really want to take a step back from that word, because we’re a long way from reciprocity. Reciprocity assumes consent, and we’re just not there yet.”

Sutton King, MPH, Afro-Indigenous of the Menominee and Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, is the Indigenous … [+] Medicine Conservation Fund’s program manager. She is a nationally recognized indigenous rights activist, published researcher and social entrepreneur dedicated to developing and scaling innovative solutions to improve indigenous health equity across sectors.

IMC Fund

“The speed of Silicon Valley-type capital, and the speed of doing something properly in an indigenous community are very different,” says Volat, an ecologist, researcher, organizer, and facilitator who is also the co-director of Riverstyx Foundation.

The IMC Fund, says King, is a vehicle for access and benefit sharing for Indigenous-led organizations and initiatives, but also an educational tool for funders in the psychedelic sector that establishes the ethical considerations of benefit sharing.

Supporting Indigenous-Led Conservation And Protectionn

“Community leaders said that in order to be prepared for the onslaught of interest in their cultures and medicines, they needed financial support, they needed to shore up their cultural structures, and they needed help interfacing with all these different organizations,” says Volat. “They needed a body that was not transactional.”

The fund, therefore, is never asking for knowledge—just what is required in order to help guide how the funds are allocated, she says.

“One of the key pieces is allowing the elders and traditional knowledge-holding communities to be able to have a way of guiding that interface and right relationship, without them being deeply disturbed by the process.”

The IMC Fund boasts an intricate governance structure and supports over 20 different projects, including the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). Volat recently helped transplant several hundred heads of peyote from a garden in Canada to their new home in the protection of the IPCI. Blessings of the Forest, an organization that empowers Bwiti communities in West Africa to plant iboga, is also supported by the IMC Fund.

Another project in the fund’s initial suite is the Yaqui Clinic, located in the Sonoran Desert in Mexico. There, the Yaqui are working to build their own culturally tailored healthcare system that utilizes plant medicines like peyote and ayahuasca to help address alcoholism and depression. The Yaqui are also prioritizing the conservation of the Incilius alvarius toad, which is under threat due to increased demand for 5-MeO-DMT.

Benefit Sharing, Education, And An Opportunity For Change

In addition to the opportunity to support Indigenous communities that treasure these medicines as sacred, Volat and King say the fund also represents an opportunity to do things differently. Benefit sharing, King says, is an honor, and not a concept that should elicit the question, “what will I get out of this?”

“We’re at a critical point where it cannot be business as usual,” she says. “It’s an honor to support Indigenous-led conservation. Investment does not equate access to cultural and traditional peoples… just because you give to the fund, it doesn’t mean you get to slap the fund’s logo all over your website and say that you are doing reciprocity.”

Miriam Volat, MS, is a researcher, educator, organizer, facilitator and ecologist. She works … [+] nationally and internationally to increase health in policy and community design. She is the co-director of the IMC Fund, the co-director of Riverstyx Foundation, and is on the board of directors of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI) and the MAPS Public Benefit Corporation.

IMC fund

Adds Volat: “We’re literally in the process of having the psychedelic movement be another very detrimental, colonial intervention that could cause massive ecological and cultural harm that will last for generations, and get in the way of repair processes that these communities are already in after dealing with 400 years of colonialism. We have the opportunity to get this right — the interface between mainstreaming of these medicines for alleviation of trauma, without perpetrating more trauma in these keystone communities.”

One of the IMC Fund’s key public-facing projects is Grow Medicine, an online platform and forthcoming app that serves two purposes. First, it provides education on the five keystone medicines the fund is supporting; and second, it gives visitors an opportunity to share the benefits they have received from plant, animal, and fungi medicines by donating to their biocultural conservation.

“It’s like a sustainable food guide, providing information on what the impact of its use is on the territory and the culture,” says Volat. “It’s also a direct place to practice the art of generosity and take on the honor of sharing the benefits with these communities.”