By: Thomas Ivory, Jr.
Feral hemp now grows wild in South Dakota, whether the State authorizes it or not. The long, fibrous plant—possibly a variety of government-sponsored hemp grown during the 1940s—today sways casually in the warm autumn breeze on the Lakota Pine Ridge reservation.
Down in ditches and across open fields, scattered hemp plants mature dark brown seeds in their yellowing flower heads. Many seeds that developed early have already been windblown afar from their loose, dying seed pods.
This year, these plants will again remain uncultivated, reliant on the laws of nature, and not of man.
If it was up to Alex White Plume and his family, this variety of non-psychoactive cannabis would have been grown, processed and manufactured reservation-wide as an agriculture crop for almost 20 years now. Back in July 1998, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council adopted Ordinance 98-27, which defined industrial hemp as distinctly different from marijuana and exempted it from the tribal ban on the narcotic.
In 2000, the White Plumes planted and raised a hemp variety on their land near Manderson, South Dakota. Just before harvest, federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents raided and destroyed the crop, incidentally scattering seeds in the process.
In 2001, the White Plumes tried hemp farming again and received the same DEA intervention.
For the third year—2002—the family successfully planted and harvested a hemp crop on the Pine Ridge reservation. Just days after the harvest, the federal government obtained an injunction that prevented the family from cultivating hemp without permission from the DEA.
According to the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), the DEA does not make a distinction between the two cannabis varieties, prohibits the cultivation of industrial hemp without a valid DEA registration and refuses to issue licenses.
All the while, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868—giving Native Americans sovereign right to develop sustainable agriculture practices—has been ignored and misrepresented.
Currently, the State of South Dakota has not legalized the farming of industrial hemp. The Agricultural Act of 2014 allows hemp farming only in states where hemp has been legalized.
While the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota has sovereign right to grow industrial hemp, the Department of Justice has termed "state" to only apply to state governments and not tribal governments. Yet, when the Menominee Indian tribe in northeastern Wisconsin tried to grow a research hemp plot in 2015, the DEA raided and destroyed the crop, claiming it was high-grade marijuana.
When the tribe argued that they were exempt from Wisconsin law because of sovereign right and have the right to cultivate industrial hemp like other states, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, claiming the crop was illegal because Wisconsin law does not allow hemp farming.
This year, the injunctions against the White Plumes have been lifted—partially. Alex and family are not authorized to cultivate industrial hemp on the Pine Ridge reservation, but they are allowed to consult on industrial hemp out of state.
Because of a significant shift in the legal landscape, continued enforcement of the permanent injunction against the White Plumes and the Oglala Sioux tribe is found by the federal government to be detrimental to the public interest. The court then declined to re-litigate the initial injunction, which stated in 2004 that it was detrimental to the public interest for the White Plumes to farm hemp in the first place.
June 25, 2016, was the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn (1876)—a great victory of Indian power over the Army and Colonel Custer.
The White Plume family celebrated with a war pony race and called the weekend a hemp victory celebration. Many cannabis activists traveled to South Dakota to support the Lakota nation and to participate in cultural festivities.
During his speech that day, Alex White Plume referred to industrial hemp as “wasu.” Calling hemp wasu, he said, gives the plant a separate identity from that of marijuana, and it can be considered the same as any other sustainable agricultural crop.
Poverty-stricken Indian reservations are seeking alternative resources (wind, solar, biofuel) to boost their struggling economies. As sovereign nations, these cultures ask that their tribal council decisions be respected and supported just like those of any other free and independent nation.
"Honor the Treaties," is their simple request.
Traditionally, many Native American tribes were nomadic: hunters, gatherers, and barterers. Agriculture was not part of their customs. As the Americas became colonized, land was divided and the natives were forced onto impoverished land and lost hunting grounds.
The Treaty of 1868 gave the Native Americans the right to sustainable agriculture. Although industrial hemp was not specifically included in the Treaty, the crop was not excluded, either. Still, the court continues to divert resolution of the matter. Instead, the federal government claims that they will continue engaging in dialogue with the various tribes on a government-to-government basis.
As for Alex White Plume, his permanent injunction has been "vacated," while his motion for alternative relief has been "denied without prejudice."
The court order filed against the White Plumes on March 28, 2016, concludes: "does not authorize" and "does not resolve" the cultivation of industrial hemp on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
With another harvest season passing, the dark-green flowers of feral hemp in southwestern South Dakota have turned brown and died. Their stiff and brittle stalks now stand like dead trees. Their seeds, however, ready and mature, have already been scattered.
How long will a pioneer hemp farmer, processor, and manufacture like Alex White Plume be denied participation in the thriving hemp industry?
How long will the federal government continue to interfere with Native American sovereign rights?
How often has the federal government overstepped its jurisdiction in the name of "public safety?"
Progress should be the ultimate goal for every civilization. Working together, without fear or control, we can fulfill healthier lifestyles the world over.
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council calls on the governments of the world to support their request for recognition of their sovereign rights.