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Give Us Back Our Hemp!

Posted on September 11, 2000

A Question Of Sovereignty

A bright blue sky served as backdrop to the stark white concrete of the Federal building here last Friday as a crowd of 80 to 90 people gathered to show their support for the members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who had been trying to add industrial hemp to the paucity of cash crops grown on the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation. Spanning the age range from infants to elders, Indian and white, the famous to the anonymous, they came together to protest the draconian seizure of the hemp that had been growing in two plots on Pine Ridge.

This past April the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council had passed an ordinance confirming and reinforcing an earlier ordinance from 1998 that made it legal for any OST tribal member to grow industrial hemp on tribal land they leased or owned. To qualify as industrial hemp, the plants and seeds had to test out at one percent or less of THC, the chemical compound that is present in marijuana, the more notorious relative of industrial hemp.

All the crops seized by the federal agents had been in complete compliance with those tribal ordinances and the tribal members want their plants back. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s own request for search warrant, analysis of plants pulled by a BIA Criminal Investigations officer and sent to an independent lab at the University of Mississippi showed “no detectable THC” content.

The plants tested had come from the property of the WaCinHinSka tiospaye, headed up by Alex White Plume. He had openly given the BIA officer, Colin Clarke, permission to pull the plants for testing. As with the members of the Slim Buttes Land Association, he was following a policy of being very open and forthcoming about the hemp growing project. The OST Agriculture Department and the Land Committee were active partners with the Slim Buttes Association and the plot of hemp they were cultivating. It was even fenced and marked with signs designating it an OST tribal project.

This week, the parties involved filed a petition to oppose the request filed by Ted McBride, U.S. Attorney for the South Dakota District, to destroy the seized hemp and they requested an expedited evidentiary hearing.

Using precedent in another case, the government had proposed to destroy what they called “contraband” after documenting it through videotaping of it. But the OST members’ filing insists that, “substantive issues exist regarding the seized material which, if resolved in favor of the Respondents, would supercede government’s preliminary characterization of the plant material as ‘contraband’ and establish the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s right to the seized property, requiring its return.”

Among the issues involved is the actual quantity of plants, and the resulting value of the loss incurred by those looking forward to their harvest, when they were cut down and hauled away. Statements by federal authorities after the raids estimated the number of plants removed from the White Plume property at 3,000 when in actuality, a count of the plants stumps left behind in clumps indicates a number more than ten times that estimate. Supporting the higher number is the fact that two ‘U-Haul type’ vans of at least 14 ft. size were needed to remove all the White Plume hemp plants, and those vans had each been more than 2/3 full.

At the rally, Milo Yellow Hair, in his capacity as OST Land Committee Director, greeted the crowd and thanked them for coming to show their support. He spoke to the crowd about the tribe’s determination to govern themselves and direct their own agricultural economic development projects without accepting oversight or judgement of their activities by the federal government.

“This is an issue that we call cutting edge, because it’s going to set precedent,” Yellow Hair told them. “We have to do something about the 88 percent unemployment on the Pine Ridge reservation, we have to do something about meeting the needs of the socio-economic conditions of our people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And one of those things, that’s going to start from the ground up, literally, is the cultivation, manufacture and the use of hemp products. And this is what we’re here for today.”

“We believe that what has happened over the last few days is an invasion,” Yellow Hair continued. “We believe that this is something that we want to continue to do. It involves the sovereignty of an Indian nation, but ultimately it is an economic-type question, ‘How do we provide employment to our people?’”

Tom Ballanco, an attorney from California who has specialized for years in legal issues regarding the differentiation between industrial hemp and marijuana, is representing the individuals and tribal entities involved. He appeared at the rally in an entire ensemble of hemp clothing. His shoes, socks, shirt and suit were completely hemp and he said the only thing that was not hemp was his silk tie. He also shared with members of the crowd and the media the many hundreds of useful products beyond clothing that can be derived from industrial hemp. “Food is one of the most exciting things that comes from hemp,” Ballanco said. “The oil produced from the seed, and the seed cake, have essential fatty acids required by the body in the exact relationship that the body needs them. And these are fats that the body can’t produce on its own.”

“They go into things like membranes of the cells, nervous system, digestive tract, and others,” he continued. “It’s also very high in protein. It’s something where if you have just a small amount, a couple handfuls of hemp seeds every day, it’s enough to really take care of your nutritional needs. And that’s another things that’s in such need and demand on the reservation, food and housing.”

Ballanco went on to describe the uses of industrial hemp as an amendment to building products that are inexpensive and almost inexhaustible in supply with hemp. One demonstration house constructed of hemp bricks is nearing completion and plans for a second house were announced at the rally that day.

Tom Cook, a Mohawk married to OST member Loretta Afraid of Bear, addressed the crowd on behalf of the Slim Buttes Land Association.

“My wife Loretta and I are the concept originators and the organizational founders of the Slim Buttes Land Use Association, a simple collection of landowners in a community on Pine Ridge,” Cook said. “We use this organization as a way to develop the things we need in this community: food, clothing and shelter.”

“So we’ve got one house up, a $100,000 house made of 60 percent hemp composite materials. And we have a second house beginning today which is an EarthShip. If you’ve ever heard of EarthShip, it’s made of tire walls, and we’re going to use hempcrete to stucco and for many other uses in that unit.”

He told the crowd that the Land Use Association’s efforts were being sponsored by the British owner of the bath and personal care products stores called The Body Shops. “They are so much for hemp in use for health and shampoo products that they backed us up in our quest to build a house to show the industrial applications of this plant.”

Actor Woody Harrelson, who had been acquitted of hemp related charges in the state of Kentucky on the same day the raids took place on the reservation, had traveled to Rapid City to support people he says have come to be his friends. He had arrived in town the night before, met with attorneys who will be representing the parties involved and spoke to The Lakota Nation Journal in a phone interview.

“This is my third time out here,” Harrelson explained. “I was out for the last two Sundances.”

He expressed how meaningful the treaty and sovereignty issues were to him, beyond his advocacy of the uses for industrial hemp itself. “What these people are trying to do should be seen as being protected by their treaties,” Harrelson said. “If there’s such a things as sovereignty, the government has no business being out here.”

“Every step of the way, every time Indians have tried to create something for themselves, the federal government has stepped in to ruin it or take it away.” The afternoon of the rally Harrelson shrugged off being labeled a “marijuana advocate” by the Rapid City Journal and spoke to the power the DEA and other interests, including the U.S. government, were trying to wield against a plant as different from marijuana as a horse is from a zebra.

“The DEA has millions and billions of your and my dollars that they can do whatever they want with,” he told the crowd. “And they have decided that they have more authority than God because they can decide what plants can and cannot grow on this planet.” “It’s ironic that a plant that is capable, I believe, of revolutionizing this economy and bringing us out of the dark ages of a hydro-carbon based economy, where petrochemical, mining, timber, nuclear and pesticide interests rule and receive huge amounts of our tax dollars in subsidies; they decided that that plant, which could revolutionize things – which could start to make paper, which could start to make plastic and fuel – that plant cannot be grown because it bears a strong resemblance to another plant that makes you euphoric. I find that confusing.” The rally ended and the crowd dispersed to their own destinations, leaving the next steps up to the attorneys and the petition filed to save the crop that had been the hope of many people on and off the Pine Ridge Reservation. But the White Plume family has to live with the economic fallout of the loss of the plants.

Alex White Plume says he will be selling off some of his horses to provide money that would otherwise have come from a check from Harrelson in purchase of his crop. Then the family will sit out a long, cold winter before they can get out into their fields to plant more hemp seeds and try again to establish the crop they still believe is the ticket to their long-term financial well-being.

Copyright © 2000, Lakota Nation Journal. All rights reserved.