Oglala Hemp Grower Counts Coup On Feds

This past Monday, David Franco, longtime member of Alex White Plume’s legal team, reached White Plume at his home to inform him they had won.

“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.”

Then the FBI and DEA came – with their “weed-whackers” – to destroy White Plume’s hemp fields. Crops destroyed, they went after White Plume legally. The Oglala Lakota farmer believes Monday’s ruling is the culmination of that battle. “The tribes are sovereign governments. According to tribal ordinance 98-27, under section 16, the tribe legalized hemp, so I’ll be planting this spring.”

In Monday’s ruling, United States District Court, South Dakota District Judge Jeff Viken wrote: “What is material to the court’s analysis is the shifting national focus on industrial hemp as a viable agricultural crop and the decision of the Attorney General of the United States to engage in a dialogue with the various tribes on the relationship between the CSA [Controlled Substance Act] and the Agricultural Act of 2014.” The government did not challenge White Plume’s assertion that “…with the Agricultural Act of 2014, the Federal government joined the 22 states that have enacted legislation on industrial hemp.” Nor did the government challenge the representation that seven states have ventured into the area of agricultural or academic research of industrial hemp.

The ruling went on to state, “Under these laws, researchers and commercial farmers are already growing industrial hemp. Several universities in Kentucky, including the University of Kentucky, are growing hemp to research the viability of certain types of hemp seed in Kentucky soil, cultivation for medical research, applications for cleaning tainted soil, and agricultural issues such as production cost. These 2014 pilot projects were extremely successful, yielding substantial data about farming techniques and alternative uses for industrial hemp. Hundreds of applicants sought permits for the 2015 programs in Kentucky. Oregon has also issued its first hemp-farming permit. In both states, the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices have neither disallowed hemp farming nor moved to confiscate or destroy the hemp crop.”

Noting he has always tried to follow the law, White Plume said he will abide by his tribe’s code concerning hemp: “I have to write a letter to the tribal land office telling them when and where and what I’m planting; and then a letter about what I did with it – how much crop there was, who I sold it to and for how much.”

The former tribal chairman’s immediate plans are to meet on Friday with the legal team that helped him. “I’m meeting with the lawyers, then meeting with the family. We need to rebuild the momentum that we had way back when we started.

“Beyond that,” White Plume said, “my goal is to join with people from other reservations who still own their lands and speak their own language. I want all my brothers and sisters to live in a hemp house, because they’re warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. I built a hemp house for my daughter and she’s really happy with it.” Another hemp house will be built for a family member in the fall, after mid-august harvest, he said.

Further plans call for a June 26 “Hemp Summit,” to be held concurrently with the annual Kiza Park traditional horse races just north of Manderson. “We’re having a two-day affair,” White Plume said. “I’m having some people come in to teach how to buy seed, how it grows, how to make the oils. I call hemp the modern day buffalo for us. Because it is – we can use the whole plant. Hemp! Hemp! Hoka he!”