DEA destroys Lakota hemp

For the second year running, there has been a showdown between the Oglala Lakota Sioux Band and US Federal Officials, about growing hemp on the Pine Ridge Reserve in South Dakota. Unlike 2000’s nasty piece of drama, which involved a surprise summer raid by gun toting DEA, FBI and BATF agents, this year’s visit was scheduled and expected.
Still, losing a hemp crop on an annual basis doesn’t mean it gets any easier.

For Alex White Plume, the Oglala Sioux whose land the three-acre crop was growing on, the primary issue is one of utility and self-sufficiency. “We’re really using our own land and our own resources,” he says.

The hemp grows wild at Pine Ridge. One story is that it was brought in by Jesuit missionaries in the 1800’s ? another that it was grown under government contract during WWII. Certainly, the hemp has been around long enough to have its own name: according to White Plume, the Sioux word for cannabis is wahupta.

The band’s industrial hemp project hopes to stimulate development on the reserve by using the fibre as a building material. By building with hemp bricks ? called “hempcrete” ? the band hopes to remedy the lack of decent housing on their land. There is also hope of selling the seed as a cash crop to food and cosmetic companies.

The Pine Ridge reserve is one of the poorest jurisdictions in the USA, with an average per capita income of one-quarter of the national average. The agricultural base is marginal, and little else grows there profitably.

The hemp at Pine Ridge has become a test of native sovereignty. The DEA claims that growing hemp on US soil is a violation of the Controlled Substances Act ? the Sioux dispute Federal authority. The band says they have a legal claim based on the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty which established their sovereignty.

The band has done their own housekeeping too: in a 1998 resolution they set the delimitation between hemp and marijuana at 1% THC. According to band law, marijuana cultivation is still illegal and still subject to the federal ban, but non-psychoactive hemp is exempt.

White Plume and his family are now planning a civil suit. As for challenging the country’s drug laws as they affect hemp and native sovereignty, White Plume hopes to find legislators who will take up their cause in the political arena.

They will also keep growing. Says White Plume: “The DEA came and they stole our hemp. But, you know, we don’t care because we can plant again and just re-grow it. We just want to be left alone.”

? Oglala Sioux Tribe: tel 605-867-6074;
? Arthur Hanks is the editor and publisher of The Hemp Report:
? CC #23, Lakota hemp homes: