The First Modern American Hemp Grower- Alex White Plume – Wahupta Ska Pejuta
Jeremy Briggs profiles Alex White Plume, the only farmer to plant, cultivate, produce, sell and deliver a hemp crop within the borders of the USA since 1968. Information in this profile was current in 2003.
The 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty grants that the Lakota of the Pine Ridge Reservation can grow any food or fiber crop. Hemp (“Wahupta Ska Pejuta”–sweet white root medicine) is the most complete food source and the strongest natural fiber on earth. In 1998, the Tribal Government for the Pine Ridge Reservation, (comprising all of Shannon Co., So. Dak., the poorest county in the U.S.–with 85% unemployment) legally separated industrial hemp from “marijuana”, specifically allowing hemp. Hemp is a perfect crop for the near-desert climate, requiring moderate moisture and no crop chemicals, while providing the potential for all the nutritional and economic gains the area desperately needs.
Alex White Plume, a Lakota living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, has grown industrial hemp on his land since 2000. That year, the DEA, with helicopters and machine guns, confiscated the crop (legal in the sovereign nation in which it was grown), costing taxpayers more than $200,000.00.
In 2001, the DEA came only with side arms and weed eaters, this time simply destroying the crop.
In 2002, Alex and his family again planted fields of industrial hemp, but were unable to complete their contract by delivering the crop to the Madison Hemp and Flax Co.,
because U.S. District Judge Battey (in Rapid City, So. Dak.), issued a civil injunction stating that if Alex so much as touches his hemp, he will be held in contempt of court and jailed for up to six months without a trial or a jury. As a result, the hemp was cut and piled by people unknown; the pile lying in silent testimony between Alex and the
Madison Hemp & Flax buyer Craig Lee, both barred from touching it by the government. Delivery was made, but the deliveree could not accept the product
Alex’s challenge to the legality of the injunction has been continually pushed back, preventing justice. It now looks as if White Plume’s case will be heard by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in August, 2004, two years after the injunction was first issued. Alex and his family didn’t plant a crop in 2003, but the seed has risen once again, refusing to be eradicated.
While watching “Wiping the Tears,” a documentary video describing the historical struggles of the Lakota with the United States, with Alex in his home, I realized that his struggle is about much more than just hemp. This is a fight to assert sovereignty. Ever since the Lakota lost their lands, they have struggled to gain identity. They once roamed the plains in bands, but now they must find a way to make agriculture work in order to end their dependence on the exact peoples who slaughtered them.
In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a directive, a “Papal Bull”, stating that the Indians are barbarous nations. He commanded that they be subjugated and be brought to the faith. Also known as the Doctrine of Discovery, it gave Europeans the moral right to “discover” (claim) Indian lands. In the process, 60 million Indians were wiped out before 1976, through disease, starvation, and murder. This is a number roughly equal to the deaths occurring on all sides during World Wars I and II. In today’s world we go to war to prevent genocide. We point to Stalin and Hitler as the ultimate personifications of evil. We could as easily turn the finger at ourselves.
The Americans of the 19th Century set out to destroy the Plains Indians and their way of life for good, starting with the intentional destruction of the buffalo and proceeding to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890; one of the most evil acts ever done to one people by another. After about 350 Lakota men, women and children were murdered at Wounded Knee, the Land Allotment Act was passed, taking away the Lakota’s identity: the Black Hills. After their lands were stolen, the Lakota were told to become farmers. Now, over 100 years later, they are trying to be hemp farmers.
Incalculable damage has been done, with minimal healing. Consider this: the Papal Bull has never been rescinded. It’s time we Americans change our policies towards the American Indians, starting by allowing Alex White Plume to grow industrial hemp: a solution to this ongoing struggle.
Alex White Plume is not just the only man to cultivate and sell a hemp crop in the United States since1968; he also serves on the Wounded Knee District School Board. He makes sure his pupils learn the old ways, especially the mastery of their native Lakota language. Alex is also the eldest White Plume male, which makes him head of the family. Alex has dedicated a great portion of his life to understanding the ways of his ancestors. The White Plumes have organized their lineage along traditional matriarchal lines, which has helped to end spousal and alcohol abuse among the White Plume clan. The women are the true heads of the family. The men still make the rules in the sacred half circle, but have to answer to the women whom control the home. If the woman is upset, then the man can be made to leave. “Women are superior to men,” says Alex.
Alex is joined in his struggle by his Brothers Percy and Gerald, his sisters Rita, Alta, and Ramona, his sons Lance Martin, Johnny Joe, and Alex Jr., his daughters Boogie Shoes, Rosebud, and Jessica, and his wife, Debra. Alex has 12 grandkids, and his siblings have 44 offspring, many with their own children. Many of his children and grandchildren fall into the Seventh Generation (a generation is roughly 15 years — it is based on the age at which a woman can become conceive) since Wounded Knee. The Seventh Generation that was prophesied to bring back the old ways, by restoring the ancient religious practices and honor upon which the Lakota pride themselves. Hemp could play a role in this because it is Mother Earth’s most versatile and useful crop. It could replace the buffalo by providing food, clothing, shelter and fuel; not to mention homes, and could help raise wealth.
According to Alex, Canadian hemp farmers yield 900-1200 lb/acre. On Pine Ridge Reservation the hopes are for 700 lb/acre. Alex would like to grow hemp on 160 acres, which could earn his family $16,000. Many buyers have already committed. He estimates that it will take 35 pounds of seeds per acre. Alex needs seed. If Alex were left in peace to grow hemp, then many growth industries could be set up to help alleviate Pine Ridge’s poverty, but the DEA, which has assumed the authority to set farm policy not only for the United States, but for sovereign nations all over the world, continues to brutally enforce insane doctrine.
Alex plans to start several hemp projects beyond farming. The first operation Alex wants to get off the ground is the hemp development building, which has 4 sections, an office, and three other rooms intended for the development of grassroots industries. This tin building is to be a local, community-based hemp housing demonstration project, a working model of agriculture-based, environmentally-sustainable economic redevelopment, models critical to the poverty stricken area.
Instead of letting the U.S. government destroy their hopes, the White Plumes are striving onward. Debra White Plume has a papermaking machine she plans to use to make hemp paper. Her idea includes placing a small shred of sage on each page that can be pulled off and burned.
Another operation is devoted to fuel. Agua Das, owner of Original Sources (the makers of Hemp I Scream!™), plans to help the White Plumes burn wild hemp for heat and energy using pyrolysis and gasification techniques Das recently trademarked. Got hemp?
Other plans are for food and feed. Alex wants to get a seed press to make oil and meal for his buffalo and horses. Right now he uses ‘Hemp Meal’ from Craig Lee’s hemp fed beef project. A handful of hemp seeds can provide daily nutritional needs for humans as well.
Alex is also considering transforming an old building in Manderson, next to Pinky’s convenience store, into a hemp products outlet. Hemp and freedom enthusiasts visit the White Plumes in sufficient numbers to make this effort worthwhile.
The final project I’ll mention will take place in late August (2004): A wild hemp harvest on his land, wherein folks other than White Plumes will harvest wild hemp and sell it to others to demonstrate the economic viability of this amazing crop.
All of these plans take money. Growing hemp in America takes guts, and paying for American lawyers, to stay out of jail, takes a lot of money. That’s why we’re producing Hemp Aid, to raise money for America’s only hemp farmer, and to keep the dream alive by ensuring that the United States keeps its hands off sovereign land.