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American Indian Tribe Challenges U.S. Government on Growing Industrial Hemp

PRESS RELEASE July 26, 2001

Oglala Lakota Nation Asserts Treaty Rights to S.D. US Attorney in Industrial Hemp Dispute

Pine Ridge, SD -- A July 18, 2001 letter from John Yellow Bird Steele, President of the Oglala Lakota Nation (Pine Ridge), to Michelle Tapken, US Attorney for South Dakota, asserts the Indian nation's right to grow industrial hemp under provisions of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. (Click Here for copy of the letter.) This assertion is a direct challenge to the US government's implication that the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 abrogates provisions of the 1868 treaty.

The DEA cut down the first industrial hemp crop at Pine Ridge in a widely publicized raid on August 24th, 2000, conducted under the auspices of the CSA. The treaty of 1868 gave the Lakota Indian nations the mandate to grow food and fiber crops, effectively switching their livelihood to an agricultural base, which is generally recognized as part of the treaty's original intent. Hemp was commonly grown in the United States at the time of the Fort Laramie Treaty.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is a federal statute that criminalized the production, manufacture, and distribution of controlled substances, including marijuana. The CSA defined marijuana without distinction from industrial hemp. Legislation in various states in recent years (including Nebraska, Kentucky, Dakotas', and Hawaii among others has sought to distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana by defining hemp in terms of its low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

On July 28th, 1998, the Lakota Nation passed an ordinance that defined industrial hemp as Cannabis sativa plants containing less than 1 percent THC by weight, the same definition used in legislation seeking to legalize industrial hemp in various states. The ordinance did not affect the existing illegal status of marijuana in the Oglala Lakota Nation.

Laws like the CSA are not applicable to Indians unless the act expressly states that it applies to Indians and that it is abrogating any treaty right the Indians may have. However, before ever getting to the treaty, the Lakota have a reserved right to grow industrial hemp by virtue of their sovereignty preexisting that of the U. S. Government. Therefore, the Lakota argue that the CSA is inapplicable to its citizens and does not preempt an Indian's right to engage in agriculture, including the growing of industrial hemp, under the Fort Laramie Treaty.

The Oglala Lakota Nation, in the July 18th letter to the US Attorney's office, argue that the "Controlled Substances Act of 1970 did not divest the Lakota People of our reserved right to plant and harvest whatever crop we deem beneficial to our reservation. Therefore, we regard the enforcement of our hemp ordinance and prosecution of our marijuana laws as tribal matters to be handled by our Oglala Sioux Tribal Public Safety Law Enforcement Services."

The harvest season for industrial hemp takes place during August. The US Attorney for South Dakota has recently asserted that any individual continuing to grow hemp on the Pine Ridge Reservation will be prosecuted with penalties of minimum ten years to life in prison. The hemp is used to build houses, which would replace current substandard housing on the reservation. The situation is causing great concern among the Native Americans.

For more information, see

For a background article on the dispute and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, see

For Archived news articles, Click Here

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