MANDERSON -- Winter lingers here, like the last guest at a party. It
returns in mid-April, maybe once more in May, leaving one last blizzard
before finally giving way to spring.

Still, Alex White Plume knew the time had come to plant a third crop of
industrial hemp on Friday. "Last week, we woke up and heard the
meadowlarks," he explained, so he knew the seeds would survive, even if
cold weather returned. "Actually, I think that makes it stronger."

Adversity, if not cold, seems to have made the White Plume family stronger,
too. Friday marked the third time they have planted hemp on their land near

Twice before, they planted crops that grew. Twice before, federal agents
came in just before harvest time to confiscate the plants. Twice before,
the U.S. government did not file any charges against anyone in the family.

The raids upset the White Plumes, who want to produce and sell hemp oil and
other products from the plants. "That really makes me angry," Alex said.
"And it makes us more stubborn."

Industrial hemp is a form of the Cannabis sativa plant, also known as
marijuana. Unlike marijuana, hemp can't be smoked to get high. But it can
be used to make everything from rope to paper to cloth to soap to animal
feed. It's a hardy plant that requires little water.

Many believe hemp crops should be brought back to the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation, where they could provide badly needed jobs. In 1998, the
Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted to legalize hemp.

However, federal laws do not distinguish between hemp and marijuana. In the
eyes of the U.S. government, it's illegal to grow either plant (although
hemp products can be legally imported from other countries). And that's
where things get interesting.

Tribal members say that because the Oglala Sioux Tribe is a sovereign
nation, its rules should apply to hemp on the reservation. But U.S.
government agents twice have crossed reservation borders to seize the
crops, without filing criminal charges.

Last November, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed a resolution calling
on Congress to "restrain its agents from interfering with the tribe's
sovereign right to exercise land-based economic-development programs on
Pine Ridge."

"It's so picture-perfect an example of the absurdity of the federal
regulations," Bob Newland, a Hermosa hemp activist who attended Friday's
planting, said. "This appears to me to be a perfect test case."

Federal authorities told White Plume that if he planted a second crop, he
would be charged in federal court. So last year, Alex's brother Percy White
Plume did the planting. This year, sister Ramona White Plume did the
planting. And there are six more brothers and sisters, plus numerous nieces
and nephews, waiting their turn.

Ramona said it was discouraging to see the plants seized just before harvest.

"I decided I wanted to (plant) next because I wanted to say something to
that," she said. "It was real hurtful that they had the audacity to do that
... I took it real personal, I guess."

So Friday morning, about 40 family members, friends and supporters drove
under tribal flags to gather on the White Plumes' land. Children threw
sticks into the creek and ran races over clumps of newly turned dirt, the
family dog at their heels. Adults chatted in the warm spring sunshine.

Then they gathered in a circle for a ceremony to bless the seed. Rocky
Afraid of Hawk, a cousin of the family, prayed and sang a drum song to the
Four Directions.

"The Creator has created this plant for a reason, and it has never gotten a
chance to complete its full circle," Afraid of Hawk said. Government has no
right to condemn a plant or animal, he said. "It has a reason to live."

Ramona spoke, and so did Alex and Newland, who urged the group to circulate
petitions to help eliminate state barriers to industrial-hemp production.

With that, the group fanned out across the field, many holding Styrofoam
cups filled with hemp seed. In previous years, the White Plumes planted
about 25 pounds of seed. This year, they had only 14 pounds, so the small
brown seeds were carefully placed into the rich earth one at a time.

This was the first time the ground had been plowed. "I always resisted
anything the government did ... and here we were doing farming activities,"
Alex said, laughing. "I was like, 'Oh no, I hope the cousins don't see me.
... Somebody will be bringing me some bib overalls.'"

He said the seed used was free of tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC), the
psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gives a "high." But he didn't say
where the seed came from. "I really don't know, because a couple of years
ago, I walked out my door and I tripped over a bag of it," he said with a
grin. "And I'm sticking to my story."

Most everyone, except for Alex and Percy, planted a few seeds. Juanita
Eagle Crow, a student in Alex White Plume's Lakota history and culture
class at Oglala Lakota College, crouched down, carefully smoothing the
dirt. Nearby, Misti Brave helped two preschoolers plant seeds. "Get your
hands dirty, like that," she told them.

Alex sat on a log chatting with friends, including Marvin Kammerer, a Meade
County rancher who attended.

"Remember when you called the DEA fascists?" White Plume asked.

"Oh yeah," Kammerer replied.

White Plume's grandchildren came and went, munching doughnuts and sampling
a tube of hemp lotion. One grandson, wearing a cap that read "100 percent
hemp -- Lakota," rubbed the lotion vigorously between his rough little
"B-O-Y hands," as Alex called them.

"Papa, my hands are soft now, see?" the boy said.

There was no sign of federal agents, though they reportedly knew the family
was planting. But there was another visitor. As Alex gazed up at the sky,
he spotted a bald eagle circling in the blue overhead.

"That's a good sign," he said, pointing it out to the others. "Aah, that's
beautiful. Well, I know everything's going to be good now."

Pubdate: Sat, 06 Apr 2002
Source: Rapid City Journal (SD)
Copyright: 2002 The Rapid City Journal