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Tribe gets hemp gift

Posted on November 29, 2000

Frankfort, Kentucky — The scene at the state Capitol was a bit strange even by Frankfort standards.

Former Governor Louie Nunn, a republican, stood at a lectern yesterday with four members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, who’d spent the previous 24 hours driving to Kentucky from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

But that wasn’t the strange part.

Just outside the Capitol rotunda sat a truckload of hemp, which Nunn and a group of Kentucky farmers gave to the Oglala representatives to help replace a hemp crop that was raided and destroyed in August by federal drug-enforcement agents.

But that wasn’t the strange part.

The donated hemp fiber will be used to help build and insulate environmentally friendly houses for Indian families on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

That, too, wasn’t the strange part. What was?

Well, the hemp being donated by Nunn and the farmers to the Oglala Tribe wasn’t even grown in Kentucky. It was grown in Canada and imported to Kentucky. Now it’s on its way to South Dakota.

“It’s a detour around bureaucratic wrangling,” said Milo Yellow Hair, land director for the Oglala Sioux. “We have to point out how ludicrous this all is. Industrial hemp is a multimillion-dollar industry.”

“But neither American Indians nor Kentucky farmers can tap into it.”

The cause of industrial hemp production — a cause that has already drawn attention in Kentucky from folks like actor Woody Harrelson — again brought together some unusual allies.

On the surface, the donation by the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative of 25 bales or raw hemp fiber and 60 bags of hemp that had been processed for horse stall bedding will help the Oglala continue building houses in an experimental land development.

The hemp fiber will be used both as insulation and (after being mixed with water and lime) to form strong, lightweight building blocks.

On the more symbolic side, the event was intended by pro-hemp forces to again make a case for growing industrial hemp, which can be used for making a range of other products, such as clothes and paper.

“Not only will hemp be a great alternative crop, but with its many uses, it could bring an industrial revolution to this state 20 years from now,” said Nunn, who has become an outspoken advocate for industrial hemp.

Nunn planned to travel with the Kentucky hemp shipment to educate people about the crop and its uses.

Law enforcement groups typically object to growing hemp because it is a relative of marijuana. But Nunn said hemp contains only an insignificant amount of the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.

It’s illegal to grow hemp in Kentucky although the legislature considered a bill last year that would have allowed for a study of hemp as an alternative crop. That bill died in the Senate.

However, it is legal to import hemp-based products from places where it is legally grown, such as Canada, said Andy Graves, president of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative.

“It doesn’t make much sense that this product can be shipped in from Canada, we can ship it to South Dakota, we can stand here and talk about it but we can’t grow it,” Graves said.

Yellow Hair and other members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe welcomed the contribution.

The intend to use it to replace part of a hemp crop that was being grown on 4 acres inside the Pine Ridge reservation, one of the poorest areas of the nation. In August, federal DEA agents raided the fields and destroyed the crop.

Joe American Horse, a traditional Oglala chief who attended the news conference, said the tribe intends to grow hemp again next year.

“When we needed hemp, Kentuckians stood up and helped us,” Yellow Hair Said. “It’s a very symbolic move, and we want to build on it.”

Copyright © 2000, Lexington Herald-Leader. All rights reserved.