SOURCE: Keloland Television

Alex White Plum

Debra and Alex White Plume

More than 15 years ago, Alex White Plume began planting industrial hemp near his home a few miles north of Manderson on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

It was a family effort, and White Plume traveled overseas to see first-hand how hemp was grown and processed there. He believed it held great economic potential for his family and for creating jobs on the reservation.

The Oglala Lakota Tribe approved the venture, but growing hemp was still illegal under federal law, and federal agents came on White Plume’s property and destroyed his crops. A federal court order eventually banned him from planting more.

But now White Plume is back in court and hoping to be back in the hemp business. The remnants of his previous effort still surround his home in the hills above Wounded Knee Creek.

“We cleaned our seeds out here in the yard, so today you look around the house, there’s hemp plants growing all over,” White Plume says. “And I’m under a restraining order not to have nothing to do with them.”

White Plume planned to do plenty with the hemp he grew down along the creek. A relative of marijuana, but without the high, hemp produces fiber, oil, seed and food products. The commercial possibilities were many.

“We had all these great plans and visions of happiness and sovereignty and beauty,” he said. “And that was our goal. It was a whole family affair.”

It ended with government raids and a standing court order preventing White Plume from growing hemp anywhere in the United States. Asserting tribal sovereignty, Oglala Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele still considers the raids an illegal taking.

“I say they still owe Alex White Plume for that crop,” said Steele, who opposes any effort on the Pine Ridge Reservation to grow marijuana.“They tested it every which way, no THC in it.”

White Plume said there was a trace amount of THC in one sample, according to the government. He questioned that result and said the plants were grown to not contain THC, the ingredient in marijuana that can produce a high.

With a shifting legal landscape on both marijuana and hemp, White Plume is back in federal court in Rapid City. He hopes to get the court order lifted and start planting hemp again. He says it has the potential to help ease the grinding reservation poverty.

“It’s a solution plant,” he said. “And everybody needs to recognize that.”

Former North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon and the Minneapolis-based Robins Kaplan law firm represent White Plume. Former South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson also works for the firm but can’t be involved in cases against his former office for two years following his departure from the office last March.

The U.S. Attorney’s office declined comment for this story, citing the litigation.