Published: Friday, February 25, 2011
The history of Native Americans in this country is one of tragedy, destruction and death. America has broken treaty after treaty with the Native American people, forcing them onto barren reservation lands and killing anyone who gets in the way.Traditional Native American culture is founded on living off the land and surviving from what mother Earth gives you. However, when the Native American people were forced to move to reservations, subsisting from the land became decidedly more difficult.
Reservation territories lacked arable land, and many tribes lost their ability to survive from the crops they'd always grown.
Many Native Americans today are faced with destitute poverty, harsh living conditions and short life spans. In 2009, the median family income of Native Americans living on reservations was $6,500. The unemployment rate was 60 to 90 percent, and the life expectancy at birth was 31.2 years.
In an effort to crawl out of this mire of destitution, many Native Americans have begun to grow industrial hemp. The plant can be planted, harvested and sold in 120 days with large profit margins. For many Native American families, hemp could be their way out of poverty, premature death and disease.
Hemp comes from the cannabis plant—the same plant comes from medical and recreational marijuana. The difference, however, is that industrial hemp has low or undetectable levels of THC (the psychoactive chemical that causes intoxication).
Industrial hemp can be used in many ways: for paper, bracelets, rope and oil. Hemp oil is even used as a dietary supplement or as skin treatment for eczema.
The endeavor to grow industrial hemp is met with one large, resolute obstacle: the American government. Most, if not all, of the Native Americans who have attempted to grow industrial hemp have been overpowered and strong-armed by the U.S. government, forcing them to abandon hemp cultivation.
The White Plume family of the Lakota tribe—a tribe mostly in South Dakota and part of the Sioux—tried to grow industrial hemp to make a cash profit and save their land. They grew the hemp within the confines of their reservation. They regulated the plants to insure that there were low, non-intoxicating levels of THC. To their surprise, the hemp plants thrived on their land.
Just as the plants arrived at harvesting height, armed officials from the U.S. came into the reservation, cut down the hemp plants, shipped them into a government truck, and took them away. All of this was done without notification, without authorization from the chiefs and without police escorts.
The U.S. government went so far as to ban the White Plume family from growing hemp in the Lakota reservation. Their cries for justice fell on deaf ears in the courts.
These actions by the government are not a matter of plant regulation or production of illegal substances. The family had insured the THC levels were non-intoxicating. The hemp wasn't even going to be sold to an American company. It was going to be shipped directly to Canada. Quite simply, this is an issue of tribal sovereignty.
Despite your opinions on hemp, cannabis, or U.S. drug policy, the fact is that the U.S. (at least in name) recognizes Native Americans to have tribal sovereignty. According to American policy, Native American tribes are to be treated as autonomous nations.
Do we tell China, Germany or Canada what they can or can't grow? Do we send armed American officials into South Africa or Brazil without informing them first? Do we cut down plants in India or Mexico without any explanation? Do we rob Turkey or France from their only hope for economic advancement?
No. We don't. Even American states have more recognized sovereignty than Native American tribes and nations.
This country has for too long ignored the territorial and tribal sovereignty of the Native Americans in this country. If they are sovereign and if the land they live on is not American soil, then they should be able to grow on it what they like. There is no justification for invading another country, stealing its agricultural resources, and placing moratoriums on production.
Industrial hemp may be the most recent symptom, but the disease is America's obstinate disregard toward Native American sovereignty. If allowed to persist, this disease will murder our Native American brothers and sisters.