Oglala Hemp Grower Counts Coup On Feds
“Hemp! Hemp! Hoka he!” – Alex White Plume
This past Monday, at 1:30 p.m., David Franco, longtime member of Alex White Plume’s legal team, reached White Plume at his home north of Manderson, South Dakota with the news: “You won, Alex! We won! It’s a great victory!”
What they won was the overturning of a lifetime injunction against White Plume stemming from raids and destruction by FBI and DEA agents of two hemp crops on his property in 2001 and 2002. In subsequent actions, White Plume and a family member were charged with eight civil counts related to the growing, cultivation and processing of the plant.
About his lawyer’s call, White Plume said: “I was all by myself. Deb [his wife] was in Denver, so I couldn’t celebrate it with anybody.” The former Oglala Sioux Tribal vice-chairman and chairman (2004-06), said the news was still just sinking in a phone interview with ICTMN a few days later.
The 15-year battle has depleted White Plume personally and financially. “We were charged with conspiracy charges and additional charges. The feds crafted a plan to break me. Instead of criminal charges, they sued me civilly. Now I’m broke: my buffalo are gone, my horses are gone, they took it all. But we’re still standing.”
The ruling in United States vs. Alex White Plume, Percy White Plume, et. al., was described by White Plume as a legal slam-dunk. In a statement, Tim Purdon of Robins Kaplan Law Firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota said: “This order brings some justice to Native America’s first modern-day hemp farmer. For over 10 years, Alex White Plume has been subject to a one-of-a-kind injunction which prevented him from farming hemp.
“The 2014 Farm Bill changed the hemp farming laws for all Americans, but it took this order to put hemp pioneer Alex White Plume on equal footing. It’s a victory for Alex, but also for tribal sovereignty. We continue to urge DOJ to allow America’s sovereign tribes to explore industrial hemp farming under the 2014 Farm Bill in the same way the states have been allowed to.”
All White Plume wanted was a sustainable living for his family on their traditional family lands. After trying a few vegetable crops, he found the semi-arid growing season and soil suitable mainly for prairie grasses fairly daunting.
White Plume hit upon a plan. “The first time I got ahold of some hemp seeds was in 1998. We planted sterilized seeds and it didn’t work out. In ’99 I tried it again with plowed ground. Tom Cook came with some of his seeds and we planted about an acre and a half.” White Plume said it was like magic, the hemp grew really well.
He decided to go slow and keep the crop down to a few acres while he made a lot of contacts to sell his hemp fiber and seeds. Craig Lee, a Kentucky Hemp farmer with Kentucky Hemp and Flax provided useful advice. Alex’s wife Debbie had a pulp maker, and they began to make plans to use the fiber to make hemp paper. White Plume learned all he could, including that it takes hemp seeds a good 10 years to settle into the local soil and environment for optimum crops. Going slow would be wise, he thought.
The 2000 crop was very successful; “Every seed came up healthy,” said White Plume. “In 2001 and 2002 we had a bad drought, but the hemp kept growing strong. Our kids and grandkids planted, we had nothing to be ashamed of – it was hemp, not marijuana. We shared seeds and ideas with other people from other reservations.”