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Medical History

A Culture's Catalyst

Historical Encounters with Peyote and the Native American Church in Canada

by (author) Fannie Kahan

introduction by Erika Dyck

with Abram Hoffer, Duncan Blewett, Humphry Osmond & Teodoro Weckowicz

University of Manitoba Press
Initial publish date
May 2016
History, Ethnic & Tribal, Native American
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2016
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2016
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price

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In 1956, pioneering psychedelic researchers Abram Hoffer and Humphry Osmond were invited to join members of the Red Pheasant First Nation near North Battleford, Saskatchewan, to participate in a peyote ceremony hosted by the Native American Church of Canada.

Inspired by their experience, they wrote a series of essays explaining and defending the consumption of peyote and the practice of peyotism. They enlisted the help of Hoffer’s sister, journalist Fannie Kahan, and worked closely with her to document the religious ceremony and write a history of peyote, culminating in a defense of its use as a healing and spiritual agent.

Although the text shows its mid-century origins, with dated language and at times uncritical analysis, it advocates for Indigenous legal, political and religious rights and offers important insights into how psychedelic researchers, who were themselves embattled in debates over the value of spirituality in medicine, interpreted the peyote ceremony. Ultimately, they championed peyotism as a spiritual practice that they believed held distinct cultural benefits.

“A Culture’s Catalyst” revives a historical debate. Revisiting it now encourages us to reconsider how peyote has been understood and how its appearance in the 1950s tested Native-newcomer relations and the Canadian government’s attitudes toward Indigenous religious and cultural practices.

About the authors

Fannie Kahan (1922–1978) was born in southern Saskatchewan. She was a journalist and the author of a number of books, including Brains and Bricks: The History of the Yorkton Psychiatric Centre (1965) and A Different Drummer: The History of the Saskatchewan Psychiatric Nurses’ Association (1973).

Fannie Kahan's profile page

Erika Dyck is a historian of health, medicine, and Canadian society at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research has concentrated on the history of mental health, institutionalization, and experimentation.

Erika Dyck's profile page

Abram Hoffer's profile page

Duncan Blewett's profile page

Humphry Osmond's profile page

Teodoro Weckowicz's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“An extraordinary and unreservedly recommended study.”

Midwest Book Review

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Other titles by Erika Dyck

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