The US government’s raid on Alex White Plume’s industrial hemp crop on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Sioux Reservation is merely the latest chapter in a long legacy of genocide that has been practiced on the American continent 500 years.
Alex White Plume and his tiyospaye (extended family) planted their hemp in accordance with tribal ordinances. It was the beginning of hope and a way to emerge from poverty. On Aug. 24, 2000, federal agents robbed them of that hope.
If White Plume or any of the other Lakota individuals had resisted, they might have been shot or imprisoned, and who knows for how long. Consider White Plume’s nephew who is serving his third year in jail for having broken out the windows of a car. Then there is Leonard Peltier, another Lakota from Pine Ridge, now listed by Amnesty International as one of the top 10 political prisoners in the world.
Alex’s wife, Debra, a strong, beautiful woman, has fought relentlessly and articulately to implement traditional Lakota values for many years. A month after the raid, she appeared more ready than ever to continue the good fight. “In the old days,” she said, “they could not tell the difference between good Indians and bad ones so they killed us all. Now they do not know the difference between hemp and marijuana so they kill all of it.”
The worldview of Lakota people demands economic projects on the reservation that are friendly to the earth and beneficial to all. Hemp is one of the few products that fulfills this vision. It is a very earth-compatible, pesticide-free crop. Just ask Ralph Nader, who made hemp production a campaign issue and who probably knows that major chemical, paper, and timber industries have much more to do with making hemp illegal in the US than any concern about drugs.
The contradictions surrounding this issue are just part of the endless dance of deception the US government does with American Indians. For example, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was designated a federal empowerment zone in 1998 in order to “help individuals and communities achieve self actualization and full citizenship.” This goal aligns well with official federal Indian policy aimed at self-determination and viable economic independence.
One cannot imagine an industry more appropriate to the empowerment zone goal than hemp production. The White Plumes currently make $450 dollars a year by renting their 160 acres to a white cattle rancher for grazing — which can do untold damage to the fragile ecology. The seized hemp from the acre and a half they planted was estimated to have been worth between $12,000 and $20,000.
After two years, however, the $20 million empowerment-zone allocation has been no more fulfilling than other half-hearted and bureaucratically stifled gestures. As has been the case for the past 100 years, they are just enough to keep the reservations dependent upon and at the mercy of the feds.
Consider that the US government sanctions environmentally disastrous pig farms and the extraction of minerals on tribal lands while denying a right to tribal nations that it gives to many other nations. Recent trade agreements such as GATT and NAFTA have allowed countries such as Canada to grow and export hemp products grown on their sovereign land to the US. The sovereign rights of the Lakota nation as spelled out in the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 and numerous Supreme Court cases should give the Lakota nation similar trading rights.
But Indian sovereignty has never been a goal of the US government. Consider the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, a statute that robbed what was left of traditional indigenous sovereignty by setting up highly corruptible tribal councils whose main function was to sign off on federal development programs on the reservations. Reservation resources, had they not been co-opted by the US government with the help of these corrupt tribal councils, might have made Pine Ridge one of the the wealthiest regions in the country, rather than the poorest.
The US government’s treatment of American Indian sovereignty is, for all of us, of great significance. If American Indian sovereignty is under siege, so is American sovereignty. If US wealth is dependent upon impoverishment of its Indian peoples, we are all impoverished.
In their 1998 book “Sovereignty under Siege: A Study of Federal Seizure of Indian Jurisdiction,” Robert L. Pirtle and M. Frances Ayer say the Supreme Court has, in past decisions regarding American Indians, rewritten the Constitution like so:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men except Indians are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator except in the case of Indians with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness except in the case of Indians … to secure these rights, governments are institued among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed unless they are Indians.”
This Anglo folly has finally caught up with us in our polluted environments. At least Indians, refusing to blend into the dominant culture, continue to live in societies that are more personal and more humane. They continue to fight for ecological sustainable products like hemp houses and clothes. They continue to honor the universal values of courage, humility, honesty, fortitude, and patience.
This is not just about giving American Indian people back their dignity by allowing them to prosper economically through ecologically sound, spiritually based farming of hemp. It is more than an issue of justice, sovereignty or constitutional revision and interpretation. Nor is it merely about an out-of-control Drug Enforcement Administration or the negative influences of multinational corporations. Ultimately, this issue is about saving a worldview that recognizes that we are all shaped and formed by our relationship to the earth. Mitakuye Oyasin. We are all related.