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Reprinted with permission of the author. This article appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of NATIVE AMERICAS, p. 64.

Industrial Hemp Makes Sense For Us

Joe American Horse


--DAVID MONONGWE (Hopi) CA. 1977

They were both right, these leaders who spoke about the fate of our Indian lands. American Indians lost much land in the war days, to fraud and development schemes, but we retain many of our lands our ancestors fought for and many of us still live on the lands set aside for us. But over time, the American structures -- bureaucracy and banks -- have limited our ability to make proper use of our lands.

This is true of my home and my people, the Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Sioux. On Pine Ridge, Indian use of allotment land is so overregulated by federal laws that we who own the land find it nearly impossible to sustain our families. The 1973 siege of Wounded Knee, and the stance of the families that supported that action, was about the people's ability to use the land, to live off the land so vigorously fought for by our ancestors. Even 40 years after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which was in part intended to protect our land bases, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office in Pine Ridge would not show elder Indians their own allotment books. We had to endure a lot of intimidation, even harassment, to see and study our own allotments and in the end, we had to sue the BIA.

Many things have improved since the turbulent 1970s, but when it comes to finding productive and profitable activities on our prairie lands, the pickings continue to be slim. This is why so many families that own lands on the reservation are looking to hemp. Hemp was once a major crop in the Missouri River Valley. It was considered an important and commercially viable product, with many useful applications. industrial hemp can be used to make paper, clothes, medicines, foods and even building materials. It has, excellent profit margins for production as oil in the manufacture of nut butter, shampoos and cosmetics. Hemp stalks' anti-bacterial qualities make it popular for horse bedding. The list goes on.

The Oglala Lakota people are oriented toward large extended families, called tiospayes. The American Horse tiospaye is one of several which support hemp agriculture and manufacture as a central land-use plan that can bring prosperity to our traditional reservation homesteads. The White Plume tiospaye and others are also engaged. We see that hemp, an ancient crop with a long trail of useful credentials, could be a wonder crop.

Two decades ago, a group of us Lakota landowners formed the Slim Butte Land Use Association to find creative ways to reinvigorate the land. The vision, goals and prayers that have propelled this project are an attempt to restore balance to the earth. We believe that industrial hemp, as a pesticide-free, annually renewable resource, can replace many carcinogenic substances in our environment, in addition to reducing the demands made on trees for wood products.


We believe the feds are

wrong on this one; our case

is reasonable and just. Our

hemp initiative is a struggle

by the Oglala Lakota

traditional tiospayes to be

productive on our own lands.

Hemp is a great crop, for

Indians and for the Mother Earth.


Although a relative of marijuana, industrial hemp is quite a different plant. The hemp plant contains less than 1 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient that produces a "high" in marijuana. The THC in the hemp grown in Oglala has been found to contain less than 1 percent THC. The Oglala Sioux Council has strictly defined and prescribed into tribal law use of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop by our people. Our sovereign law is reasonable in this case and we follow it gladly.

It is the federal drug law that is interfering with our sovereign right to develop our lands to the best of our ability. The feds intrude with an ax- and hatchet-style of enforcement, in line with the legacy of poorly-conceived Drug War mandates. They have criminalized our families who are pursuing hemp agriculture, despite our own laws. Ours is not a criminal enterprise. Former Kentucky governor Louie Nunn, a Republican, is a supporter of Lakota hemp production. He calls industrial hemp "a great alternative crop, with many uses."

The Drug War as presently constituted commits consistent boondoggles against innovative and good citizens on Pine Ridge. We are victim to antiquated laws and enforcement mandates that should not apply to Indian Country. Raiding industrial hemp fields on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the middle of the Sundance season, criminalizing some of our more creative, entrepreneurial families, is a poorly devised assignment for a well-reasoned drug enforcement agency.

We believe the feds are wrong on this one; our case is reasonable and just. Our hemp initiative is a struggle by the Oglala Lakota traditional tiospayes to be productive on our own lands. Hemp is a great crop, for Indians and for the Mother Earth.

Remember us as we are making our stand; we are in it for the long run.

Joe American Horse is a traditional chief and former president of the 0glala Sioux Tribe.

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