By Tom Cook, Slim Butte LUA Project Director
When: April 29, 2000
Where: Pine Ridge Reservation
Who: Slim Butte Land Use Association/Kiza Tiospaye
What: Tribal Members are implementing a Tribal Ordinance passed in 1998 that allows cultivation of industrial hemp on the Reservation.
On Saturday April 29, 2000, the 132nd anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of 1868, members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe will plant industrial hemp at various locations on the Reservation. In July 1998, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed an ordinance defining industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana (which is a controlled substance under tribal law). The ordinance provides for the cultivation and harvesting of industrial hemp on the Reservation.
The Slim Butte Land Use Association, which spearheaded the effort to initiate industrial hemp production on the Reservation, looks forward to the sustainable aspects of the crop. “It is very important to us that we be able to grow a crop that allows us to live in balance with Mother Earth,” says Loretta Afraid-of-Bear Cook, Chair of the Slim Butte LUA, “Hemp does not require any chemicals and it allows us to start taking care of our people ourselves.” The landowner association is in the latter stages of building a house with materials primarily of industrial hemp. While lack of adequate housing is a problem on most reservations, it is particularly challenging on Pine Ridge where tornadoes and heavy winds frequently destroy homes. President Bill Clinton acknowledged the severity of the housing shortage during his visit to Pine Ridge last summer, saying “There is no more crucial building block for a strong community and a promising future than a solid home.”
“Industrial hemp is the key component to sustainable housing,” said Tom Cook, LUA Project Director for the house building project. “We make hemp-based concrete that is lighter, stronger and easier to work with than masonry concrete,” he said, “Not only that, but we are putting people to work here on the reservation with good jobs.” The house building project has employed eight people, and the Slim Butte LUA intends to market its “Hempcrete” blocks to the building industry. In addition, the LUA seeks to set up a handmade paper making operation that will use parts of the hemp that do not go into the block making.
“The people used to have the buffalo for our food, clothing and shelter,” said Joe American Horse, Program Manager for Slim Butte LUA and former President of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, “Now hemp can do that for us.” American Horse, whose grandfather was one of the signers of the Treaty of 1868, explains, “What we are talking about is industrial hemp; it is not a drug. In addition to providing Lakota people an economic base, the cultivation of industrial hemp will reduce our reliance on diminishing natural resources and contribute to global ecological health. This is a way we can help our people and our environment.” Currently, American Horse serves as the Public Relations Officer for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
When asked about the potential legal ramifications of the planting, Slim Butte LUA attorney Thomas J. Ballanco said, “The right to cultivate industrial hemp on the reservation is a secured treaty right. Hemp was grown all around here in the 1800s.” Ballanco, a West Point graduate who authored the tribal ordinance expects no interference from the federal government. “This issue does not concern the U.S. government. Here we have a tribe exercising a sovereign treaty right to provide jobs, homes and sustainability on the reservation.” Commenting on fellow West Pointer, and federal Drug Czar, Gen. (Ret.) Barry McCaffrey’s expected response, Ballanco said, “If they teach cavalry officers anything at West Point, it is to listen to your scouts, especially in Sioux country,” said Ballanco, himself a former Army scout. Making reference to West Pointer George Custer who was wiped out along with his entire command in the battle of Little Bighorn after he failed to listen to the scouts who warned him not to attack. “I advised the tribe and the individual members that this a legally protected treaty right,” said Ballanco. “If the General has a problem with this activity, then he can take that up with me and not the tribe or its members.”
American Horse said he is following up on the last words Clinton told the Pine Ridge people: “We are doing everything we can to make your empowerment zone work. But remember, there is nothing that we can do except to help you to realize your own dreams. So I say to every tribal leader here, we must share the vision and it must be fundamentally yours – for your children and their future. If you will give us that vision and work with us, we will achieve it.”
Copyright © 2000, Tom Cook. All rights reserved.