What led you to choose hemp as a crop?
In 2007, I viewed the documentary Standing Silent Nation and became inspired by Alex White Plume and his efforts to uphold the sovereignty rights engraved in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 by growing Industrial Hemp to boost economic development on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. At the College of Menominee Nation, I focused my studies on Industrial Hemp as it relates to tribal sovereignty in the 21st century through the scholarly research in Tribal Legal Studies and Sustainable Development. I started to research Industrial Hemp and wanted to educate my peers on the benefits.
My professor for Introduction to Sustainable Development was receptive to alternative methods in order to sustain Grandmother Earth. He showed Standing Silent Nation to our class and allowed me to present on it for my term paper. My peers were outraged by what they saw in the documentary. I used a hemp collared shirt and a hemp paper notebook to give a visual image in my presentation. Many of my peers inquired where you could buy hemp products. My professor showed Standing Silent Nation to his classes every year after 2007 to build awareness around the economics, environment, climate change, tribal sovereignty and historical perspectives of Industrial Hemp.
In 2014, Congress passed the Agriculture Act (Farm Bill) and the Department of Justice, under the Obama Administration, released a memorandum on the policy towards Cannabis and Industrial Hemp in Indian Country that covered enforcement. The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin passed an ordinance for the College of Menominee Nation to conduct research on Industrial Hemp cultivation in April of 2015. The research project started in July.
How many acres of hemp did the tribe grow in 2015?
The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin grew three acres in an open field surrounded by forest on the South Branch section of the reservation. This section of the reservation has strong weather patterns with high winds and heavy rainfall. The hemp field withstood many storms and a tornado in the area during the growing season.
What soil and environmental conditions did you grow in?
The Menominee Indian Reservation was created through a treaty with the United States government in 1848. The old growth forest that stands today can be seen from space as a green rectangle in the middle of Wisconsin. It is a testament to Menominee environmental stewardship. The three acres in the middle of the open field had been tilled the year before and is surrounded by native annual flowers, perennial flowers, and shrubs.
Did you grow in conjunction with an institution of higher learning? Which one?
The College of Menominee Nation is a tribal college and authorized by the United States Congress as a Land Grant Institution under the Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act of 1994. The College of Menominee Nation was created for the benefit of agriculture and mechanic arts.
Will the tribe be able to grow in 2016?
At this time, the fate of Industrial Hemp research at the College of Menominee Nation is in the hands of the courts. The Menominee Tribe filed a Declaratory Judgement on three different counts. The United States Department of Justice filed a counter suit against the Menominee’s Declaratory Judgements. The counter suit asks a judge to rule against the Menominee Tribe’s claim to be recognized as a state, but did not weigh on the creditability of the College of Menominee Nation as an institution of higher learning. The opportunity to grow in 2016 depends on the decision by a federal judge. I see a favorable ruling as the College of Menominee Nation is chartered by the United States Congress as a Land Grant Institution to conduct agricultural research.
What have been your biggest challenges in farming hemp to date?
The two biggest challenges that face farming Industrial Hemp on the Menominee Indian Reservation is public perception and law. The Menominee people and residents of Wisconsin are uneducated about the benefits of hemp. Menominee people forget at one time in our history, our ancestors’ harvested saeqnap (the Menominee word for hemp) from the forest for rope and fiber. Our Menominee tradition has been to utilize hemp. Wisconsin grew hemp up until 1958 when the last factory closed its doors. Wisconsin people have to remember the history of hemp and what it did for our state economically. Education is the key to change public perception in favor of hemp cultivation in Wisconsin.
The decision by the court system against the Menominee Tribe will determine tribal eligibility in the hemp economy. I hope the courts rule in our favor for it would set precedent throughout Indian Country. More tribes and tribal colleges will be able to join in rebuilding the hemp economy in the United States.
What changes must be made in order for you to be successful in farming hemp?
The change that needs to happen is public education on the benefits of Industrial Hemp cultivation. Recently, I joined Hempstead Project HEART (HPH) as their Education Director. HPH is an organization co-founded by the late John Trudell, and works in collaboration with the Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, California. Before John passed, I met with him to discuss the future of Industrial Hemp in Indian Country. He envisioned an alliance between natives and non-natives for Industrial Hemp cultivation. Carrying forward his vision, HPH will launch an education campaign in Wisconsin this summer to change public perception on Industrial Hemp cultivation and build an alliance. Our focus will be on five areas: economics, environment, climate change, tribal sovereignty, and historical perspectives.
“What a sight it would be, Marcus, to see Industrial Hemp replace corn as the major crop grown in the United States one day!” John Trudell said to me during our conversation. The future of Industrial Hemp should be open to everyone who wants to cultivate the plant. It will take all of us to make John’s vision for Grandmother Earth reality.