Seed in the Ground

The Oglala Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota were fed up with a tribal government that didn’t represent them. Most of the tribe’s members saw the government’s attempts to alleviate reservation poverty as a failure — from the plastic Indian-doll factory to the fishhook factory to the moccasin factory to the attempts to farm plowable land. Then one tribal member, Loretta Afraid of Bear-Cook, thought she found the key to the Lakota’s economic self-sufficiency: hemp.

Two acres of hemp were planted on the reservation, and the operation seemed to be going well, reports Rebecca Clarren in High Country News. By mixing pulp from the plant’s stalk with limestone and clay, workers had been able to use hemp to make bricks for houses. Several families also had plans to grow the plant to make clothing and oil for cooking and lotion. But although the Oglala Lakota is a sovereign nation, their luck quickly ran out. Two years ago — days before they were to harvest their crop — FBI and DEA agents raided the reservation and slashed the hemp.

Their fight has gained backing from an array of nonprofits, as well as The Body Shop and movie star Woody Harrelson. The allies of the Oglala Lakota have provided hemp from Canada to build homes and a community center, says Clarren, while activists are pursuing recourse through Congress. They hope to convince politicians to amend federal drug laws to allow the growing of hemp on reservations. Project supporters also say the fight is about overcoming their biggest impediment to prosperity — being reliant on a government that doesn’t support them.
–Kate Garsombke
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