by Reuben Cruz
Photos by Dan Skye

This past summer, for miles around, tall fields of bright-yellow sunflower heads could be seen dancing in the wind all over the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, adding even more color to the lushness of the expansive green hills. These were the most noticeable results from the abundant amounts of rain the region received, far more than in the past few years.

The sunflowers are a welcome sight because of the restorative effect they have on the land. These are the same types of sunflowers being planted in Fukushima to help absorb the radiation in the soil from the spill at the Dai-ichi Power Plant. Japan is following in the footsteps of Chernobyl, where sunflowers were planted for their ability to help filter out the chemicals and nuclear contaminants. The Ukraine has also planted industrial hemp to aid the de-contamination and remediation the soil.

The summer also saw fields of sunflowers bloom across acres of the White Plume tiospaye (extended family land holdings) in Manderson, SD. The White Plumes, of the Oglala Lakota tribe, have extensive experience with restorative agriculture. For those unfamiliar, the White Plume clan tried to grow 0-percent THC hemp three times, in 2000, 2001, and 2002, on their tribal land. Hemp had been voted upon and legalized by the Tribal Council. However, all three years the crops were raided by fully armed SWAT & DEA agents, destroying thousands of dollars worth of seed and all hopes of any future hemp businesses. Although the raids were a violation of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty and broke international law, Alex White Plume, the family patriarch, was threatened with years in a federal prison. In the court case, he escaped jail, but his family was outlawed from growing any more hemp. A restraining order prohibiting further harvest was placed on the remaining hemp on the property.

Regardless, a decade later, hemp continues to grow across the White Plume land and elsewhere on the reservation. When DEA and FBI agents hauled away the plants, they scattered seeds everywhere. Incidentally, the public cost for each raid exceeded $200,000. No one can accuse the government of using logic. Millions are spent by the Feds to prevent hemp's cultivation, while US industries spend billions of dollars on imported hemp from Canada and China for use as food, fuel, and fiber.

In the US, hemp is still a Schedule I drug. As part of the cannabis sativa species, it is outlawed in America, even though hemp has no psychoactive properties. An industrial crop, hemp was used by the first colonies in this country for rope, clothing, paper and legal tender. Its cultivation was encouraged during World War II. But now federal law specifically prohibits hemp cultivation. (However, there was an encouraging development this past October. Colorado activists harvested a hemp crop. Although the DEA is required to grant a license before hemp seeds can be planted, a license was never sought. The DEA did not interfere.)

All of this is information was known by Alex White Plume prior to sowing hemp crops. (The film Standing Silent Nation, which won a HIGH TIMES Stony Award for best documentary, chronicles the White Plume hemp crop.) Had the White Plume family’s plans for processing the fiber and the seeds been realized, it might now be in control of a multi-million dollar empire, considering that the thriving market is comprised of over 25,000 hemp products. The lost advantages for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and thousands of Red Nation citizens cannot be measured.

Today, the White Plume family's efforts focus on other issues threatening their homeland. The most vital is their sacred water protection work. These efforts are spearheaded by Alex's wife, Debra White Plume. Debra is head organizer for Owe Aku (Bring Back The Way). She leads the fight from her home on Pine Ridge against the multi-national corporations and the foreign-owned uranium mining companies that are threatening the Lakota's source for clean, underground water –  the Oglala Aquifer. Debra explains the Lakota worldview.

"Water is sacred,” she says. “Water is our first medicine -- mni wicozani. Without water there is no life.”

Yet, the dubious practices of the Canadian-owned Cameco mine in northwestern Nebraska threaten their water every day, using 9,000 gallons per minute, every hour, every day. The sudden rise of illnesses in the region can be traced back the source of their water contamination – the mine.

Surprisingly, not everyone opposes the mine. Some are convinced that any economic gain outweighs any threat to their own drinking water. Moreover, many people have no idea that the mining companies are using water from the Oglala Aquifer in the uranium mining process. Uranium, a highly toxic substance in its various forms, is highly dangerous, especially when broken down and brought above ground. The Lakota people know this.

The entire Midwest, known as our nation’s “breadbasket,” is currently under threat of being severely depleted as corporations seize land and water resources for extractive industries. More and more farmers and ranchers are offering up their land to fracking and mining industries, while loopholes in the Water Protection Act threaten fresh sources of clean water for humans, animals and agriculture. In Northeastern Colorado alone, there are over 1,000 fracking wells, some of which were damaged during the heavy flooding of this past September. The storm foreshadows the potential for contamination of thousands of acres of nearby farm and grazing land, just 15 miles outside of Denver – the current leader in all things cannabis.

In the midst of hard economic times, financial options for many are limited. Equally limiting is the damage already sustained by eco-systems overly stressed by First World consumption. But as Alex White Plume says, “The solution can be seen from my front door!”

Hemp provides the opportunity to grow a completely healthy, sustainable, profitable, cash crop that can be harvested every 16 weeks. It can also be replanted just as quickly and, in the process, repair the soil. Instead, because of government policy, corporate greed, and misinformation, farmers and ranchers are poisoning their own crops and livestock with toxins and carcinogens already found in ground and surface water from hazardous chemicals used in mining and fracking. Are we willing to sacrifice the water, land, food, and the future for our coming generations?

Amid the clamor and talk of progress – and with the new wave of "green" trends making their way into the mainstream – it may be time for a "grass-led" movement of agriculturalists to repeat that stand taken by Alex White Plume.

It’s simple: plant seeds of 0-percent THC hemp. What could be greener than non-fossil fuel with no carbon footprint, homegrown in local communities? Instead of destroying our environment, and wreaking havoc on the climate, let’s protect our clean water and reduce carbon emissions. We need to go green and stay green by switching from costly and destructive fossil fuels and embracing a new era of hemp. 

The White Plume's current struggle to take action against their diminishing sacred water supply in the area is documented in the ongoing film/campaign entitled Crying Earth Rise Up which follows the lives of the people, on and off the reservation, near the Nebraska uranium mining site.