Filter Article: Why Indigenous Protesters Stopped a Global Psychedelic Conference

arly this summer, the Psychedelic Science conference brought 12,000 people to Denver, Colorado, to participate in a dizzying array of sessions, as I reported for Filter. But on the final day, June 23, a protest stopped this global event in its tracks, as activists blasted the psychedelic movement over Indigenous representation and rights.

Conducting interviews elsewhere, I missed the whole thing. But a Youtube video shows what went down. Attendees were gathered in the giant theater for a closing speech by Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the conference host. 

MAPS is a nonprofit research group with a separate, for-profit business arm, and plays a huge role in psychedelic science and the movement. It is perhaps best known for its research on MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, now in its third and final phase of clinical trials before it could become an FDA-approved treatment.

“Can we get your attention? This is not a revolutionary movement if you are leaving people out of the conversation.”

Just as Doblin took the stage to thunderous applause, a small group of people seated near the stage stood up, chanting and beating a drum.

“Can we get your attention?” a woman called. “This is not a revolutionary movement if you are leaving people out of the conversation. I want you to join me in naming the people who have violated you. Like Rick Doblin.”

Noise burst out as she spoke, and tensions boiled. In another video shot from the perspective of a protester and reviewed by Filter, some audience members are seen glaring at the group or heckling them. Others look confused or indifferent. As the protesters neared the stage, some people tried to block them, standing in their way. Some in the crowd started a counter chant to drown out the protesters: “Let him speak!”

Doblin paced along the stage, appearing anxious. He tried addressing the protesters directly, but was interrupted. Finally he said, “How about this—if I give you one minute to say what you want to say, then let me speak. Would you like to do that? Come on up.”

A total of five individuals spoke. The first was Angela Beers, a visiting instructor at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, who has Indigenous Mexican (Zacatecas and Coahuila) heritage. She criticized MAPS for its conduct in planning the conference, saying that a program she helped organize to feature Indigenous speakers wasn’t given sufficient financial support, forcing her and others to pay to transport them to the event.  

Beers slammed what she described as “tokenism” of Indigenous representatives in the psychedelic movement. She also defended the right of Indigenous communities to “gatekeep” peyote from “white people coming to take it.”

“If you don’t liberate the people who are most marginalized on their own lands, sovereign nations, you can’t liberate anybody,” she said. “Nobody owns healing, you don’t own our culture. You can’t take it from us. We deserve respect. Where are the investors investing in land back, water rights?”

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Why Indigenous Protesters Stopped a Global Psychedelic Conference

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