Chet Brokaw, AP file
Alex White Plume sits near hemp plants that are growing wild outside his house near Manderson, South Dakota, in this this June 26, 2007 file photo.

Oglala Hemp Grower Counts Coup On Feds

David Rooks

“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.”


You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Only the White man would make a weed that grows practically everywhere illegal! Many states are overturning the laws against marijuana, and this was supposedly true in South Dakota, but let a Native try to make some money the same way White farmers and universities are doing and it's illegal. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . imagine the crop you'd have if you sprinkled that shit on the ground!

Old Lady's picture
Old Lady
Submitted by Old Lady on
Congrats on this victory to Alex White Plume, his family and legal team. But I'm kind of floored that it was such a big deal - for crying out loud, he should - all Natives should - be able to do what he wants on his own land. Tribes should be the ones governing this stuff if anyone, and the federal, state and other governments really need to butt out. Glad for the win though.

Rev Brandon Baker
Rev Brandon Baker
Submitted by Rev Brandon Baker on
LOL isnt this the same paper shaming ONAC and James Mooney, stating Cannabis aka Hemp has no place or value in Native history and culture? Whiteman teach you Blasphemy very well ;)

WhiteManWanting's picture
Submitted by WhiteManWanting on
Some people apparently don't know how to read with comprehension, and don't bother to educate themselves before making fools of themselves. Industrial hemp is not marijuana. Any discussion of ONAC, pot, etc., is irrelevant to the wonderful victory finally achieved by Alex White Plume - a victory for so many more. Lesser men or women would have folded long ago - he did not. He and his family will be in my prayers. // Some of the attitudes here remind me of the idiocy displayed by my former congressman, Phil Gingrey (so-called highly educated M.D.). Fortunately, he is no longer doing damage in the halls of Congress. Years ago I wrote and asked him to support a bill by Congressman Ron Paul which would have legalized industrial hemp. I even specifically stated I was not advocating for the legalization of marijuana, only addressing the issue of hemp (two very different though closely related plants). Instead of a reasonable reply, I got a written response about the dangers of drugs, a refusal to support my request, etc. A later call to his office resulted in his chief of staff literally screaming at me over the phone when I merely requested a follow up letter stating that they were in error, and that my request had nothing to do with marijuana. They refused. This is the kind of idiocy that has been elected almost across the board, in both major parties, controlling the affairs of the people they were supposed to represent. Get educated, you naysayers, before posting similar idiocy to the uneducated physician posing as a representative of the people. Then maybe, just maybe, you can recognize what a huge victory Alex White Plume won for freedom, sovereignty, rationality, and progress, and celebrate his greatness that will sadly be little known outside Native circles.