Indigenous Healer Faces Prison After Receiving Cactus in Mail

Sapmi, Sweden, Dec. 21, 2012 -- After spending six years in the Amazon jungle of Peru learning traditional healing techniques, Jungle Svonni returned home to Sweden only to face trumped-up charges for possession of a natural plant that is entirely legal in his country. 

News of his arrest has sparked an online flurry of support with friends and supporters around the world quickly launching an online petition through the Web site that calls on the Swedish government to drop all charges immediately. The petition is gaining hundreds of signatures a day. 

Jungle Svonni is a Sami, the only indigenous people of Scandinavia recognized under the international conventions of Indigenous peoples. As a child he watched the last vestiges of the traditional healing methods of his people, who live in the Arctic north of Sweden and Norway, all but disappear. His grandfather was one of the last practicing healers in the area. 

Svonni left his homeland in his 20s determined to learn and revive this ancient craft. His journey led him to South America and eventually to the Amazon jungle around Iquitos, Peru, where he met and studied under several rainforest shamans. After completing years of rigorous training, which included ceremonies with sacred plants like Ayahuasca and San Pedro, and fasting with medicinal herbs -- often in solitude and deep in nature -- Svonni began working at a retreat center in the area. Iquitos is home to a dozen or more healing retreat centers, where people from around the world come to heal emotional and physical illnesses with the aid of traditional sacred plant medicines and trained shamans. 

As the resident shaman, Svonni presided over healing ceremonies, gave spiritual advice to participants and prescribed specific plant medicines. Numerous patients reported positive results from these treatments, including Stephanie Stewart, a psychiatrist from Los Angeles who wrote in her letter of support, "I have not felt the shearing forces of depression since those 10 powerful days in the Amazon working with Jungle and with the plant medicine." 

Last year (2011), Jungle Svonni was invited to return home as one of the representatives of his people at the annual Indigenous Terra Madre conference, focusing on preserving local and traditional food, language and knowledge systems. He was profiled in an article on the conference Web site. 

This year, Svonni returned home to Sweden to be with his family and his community. But his homecoming was short-lived. After he received a package of San Pedro cactus in the mail -- just under one kilo -- he was immediately arrested and jailed for over two weeks by the customs police. San Pedro cactus, a close relative of peyote that has a history of thousands of years of use by many indigenous societies in South America, is actually legal in Sweden, as it is in the United States. It is traditionally used for a wide variety of healing purposes, including as a meditation aid and tool for spiritual growth. 

The judge threw out the case, as the plant is legal and no real crime was committed. But the prosecutor has reopened the case and wants to use this opportunity to set a precedent that would not only ban this time-honored healing medicine but would punish Svonni with years in prison. 

Just as the Swedish government hunted, and often put to death, the so-called "witches" that practiced their age-old natural healing methods when they took over Sapmi, they now want to crush any resurgence of indigenous practices. This case is also part of a broader worldwide movement to suppress plant medicines and traditional healing techniques. Some people believe these techniques often perform better than the products of the multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry, which spends millions donating to political election campaigns across the globe.

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