Alex White Plume, Oglala Lakota, was a bit surprised when two federal agents sauntered up the walk to his door a few months back. Being good agents, they couldn’t help notice the entire lane to his home was flanked thick with hemp plants. Duly noted, they went on to inform White Plume they were not going to pursue marijuana-related crimes and investigations against him anymore.
“They said they had more important things to do,” said White Plume. “I guess those crimes aren’t criminal – anymore.”
This new development could usher in an era that leads to an economic boom for reservation economies, believes the 68-year-old ikce wicasa, or head man. The engine of this godsend: industrial hemp. For White Plume, who has been on a 20-year odyssey that included a federal restraining order not to touch hemp, and saw him in and out of court over a dozen times, the landscape has shifted remarkably. Throughout, the Lakota leader’s determination to raise, process, and market industrial hemp products never waned.
Last year, a federal court rescinded White Plumes restraining order. “That was big,” said White Plume. As another example of the radical shift, White Plume cites a May 7, 2016 letter from then Tribal Chairman, John Yellowbird Steele to the U.S. Attorney’s office that said, “Please permit Mr. White Plume, and any other tribal members that want to go into the industrial hemp business to do so. If I do not hear back from you in 60 days. I will direct them to proceed.”
Tribal officials say they never heard back. White Plume believes the U.S. Attorney’s response came when his agents paid him a visit.
When ICMN caught up with Alex White Plume recently, he was joined by his daughter, Rosebud. Breaking a little news, Alex announced he recently named Rosebud White Plume the new Chief Executive Officer of their tiyospaye’s reorganized enterprise, White Plume Hemp.
So, Alex, it’s been a long slog. What are your thoughts on this new hemp world we seem to be living in?
Alex: You know, in 2000, I had an Oglala Lakota Tribal Council resolution legalizing us to raise industrial hemp on our own land. I’d experimented with hemp since 1998, and I saw the possibilities, I set to planting. That fall, just when our plants were ready to harvest, the Feds confiscated our whole crop. The tribe had passed a law, but they didn’t stand up with me to defend it. So, when the feds came on the reservation, we were just shocked. That first year we were more worried about doing the planting ritual, and we were more worried about doing the harvest ceremony proper. We weren’t worried about DEA or FBI.”
Didn’t you help craft the tribal council ordinance?
Alex: Yes, I had a lot of help from our elders who know the treaties inside and out. I also got good legal advice. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty and the U.S. Congress’s 1885 Major Crimes Act allowed Native tribal members to grow and process hemp within the exterior boundaries of their reservations. This was because the treaty and the Federal Crimes Act doesn’t include controlled substances. The Controlled Substances Act has no part of their duties here.
When you were researching, did you find any traditional uses for marijuana?
Alex: I worked with the elders on the treaty council for 16 years. During that time, I asked them, what’s the Lakota word for marijuana? It took them awhile, and then they remembered. It’s called wahupta ska pejuta. Pejuta means medicine. Once I knew that I knew we had cultural relevancy with the hemp.
So, your facts were solid, but, in hearing after hearing, it fell on deaf ears. What changed?
Alex: Well – since 20 years passed, 11 states legalized production, sale, and use of THC rich Marijuana for recreational use, and 35 other states allow it for medical purposes – and the states, six states, totally issued permits to hemp growers. It seems like reality crashed down on them. Maybe they remembered Thomas Jefferson grew hemp and pressed it on his own farm because back then they knew all the good it does.
“Hemp is our new buffalo” – Alex White Plume
When federal agents paid you a visit recently, did they see all the marijuana plants lining your walkway?
Alex: (Laughs) They had to. Our house is surrounded because we used to bring the hemp up here and clean the plants and collect the seeds on the side of my house. I never thought about it, but now I have hemp growing up all around my house. The birds love it. We watch them out the window – they’re always having a pow wow and a feast. I didn’t have the heart to kill the plants, so for 19 years we’ve been watching them grow, drop their seeds, and grow …
Have you given much thought to where you might be if you had been allowed to pursue your plans back in 1998?
Alex: I try not to think about it much. All my friends that started with me are now running big corporations all across America. That could have been our tribe. The last 20 years, the hemp industry would have paid me over $400,000. I could have been living in a big house, with a nice car instead of an old beater. Now that we’re in business, maybe later Deb and I are gonna buy an RV and hit every pow wow in the country. Deb thinks that in about 3 years she’ll be done with her uranium fight, so we’ll be ready then.
Rosebud: I think the uranium is going down and the hemp is going up, so we’re making better future choices.
What makes you so certain hemp will work to grow Pine Ridge’s economy?
Alex: Our tribe’s land base has the perfect soil and climate where it’s easily grown everywhere. Maybe except for out in the Badlands, it could be grown in every nook, cranny and shady spot on the Rez.
So, a new CEO. It sounds like a big change has been made in the tiyospaye, could you speak to that?
Alex: Everything going on for the last 20 years, that’s my story, that’s old time, and it’s in the past. My daughter has a different story. I’m getting old now. I don’t have the energy. I’ve never liked stress. But when you have a business to take care of it’s a lot of stress. When I was young, they only had small radios around, and that was if you had electricity. I grew up when it was silent, very peaceful. You could hear the birds sing, and you could distinguish which bird it was. Today, nobody knows those.
Nowadays, you have electronics everywhere, and I just want to get away from it. My daughter’s young, and I have stepped aside and made her CEO. We’re formalizing our hemp business now.
Will there be a ceremony to transfer power?
Alex: No. I just talked to her and said, ‘Go ahead, girl. If someone picks on you … Dad will be right there to back you up.’
So, Rosebud White Plume, you’re 30-years old, you’re taking on a lot of responsibility.
As CEO of White Plume Hemp, you’ll be the Ikce Winyan – is that right?
Alex: “No, just say Winyan. Because a woman is naturally more powerful
Rosebud: “Well, for us, titles don’t really matter. More important is our plans to go with a more high-tech hemp plant. We��re using cloning to make hemp plants more specifically for CBD oil. We want all of our plants to have the same level CBD (cannabidiol).
Is this to improve uniformity in the quality of your product?
Rosebud: Yes, it’s very important because we plan on making medicines. There are several medicines we’ll be able to make here. The hemp will come directly out of our hemp fields and we will make the products here, on our own. Now that South Dakota legalized CBD six months ago, doors are opening. It’s very exciting …
Alex: “And our tribe is actually helping us out. They’re creating a protocol so we can supply South Dakota with CBD.
So, Rosebud, would it be okay to ask for specifics about White Plume Hemp’s near and future plans? For instance: will you be seeking financial backing so you can develop and expand the manufacturing and marketing of your products?
Rosebud: Yes, we have a number of people who have the financial capability and are interested in helping us, but I can’t get detailed because we’re still in the planning stages. We definitely plan to process and market our own brand of CBD oil. We’ll actually press the oil – do it all – here, on our own.
And because the lack of housing is a huge issue here, we will be manufacturing hemp building products for our people. They are far more energy efficient and healthier to live in. All of this will mean real paid work for more people in our community.
So, game on, huh. Is the awesomeness of it starting to hit you?
Rosebud: Yes, it’s really exciting. Last year, when they lifted the injunction, it was a real eye opener. We knew that one day that could possibly happen, but when it finally did it was like: ‘Alright, it’s time now!’ I’m 30 years old, and I have kids my age when our dad was trying to do it for us. Still, even though it seems kind of sudden, I think we’re ready for it.
Also, we have a few people coming soon to provide technical assistance and marketing advice. They’re helping us write an overall business plan. So, we’re right at the start of that process now.
Your dad’s a pretty persistent guy, do you share that quality with him?
Rosebud: Yes, I do, I think that’s why he chose me. It’s good that I’m going to have him behind me, helping to give advice. I have a lot of cousins and brothers, there’s over two hundred in our tiyospaye, and we’re all going to be helping. It’s very important for us.