Alex White Plume
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Alex White Plume (born 1952) is the former Vice-President and Tribal President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation, located in South Dakota of the United States. He served as president from June 30, 2006-November 2006, after Cecilia Fire Thunder was impeached.
From 2000 to 2002, he earned unwanted publicity when United States federal drug agents raided his farm and destroyed his crop of industrial hemp before he could harvest it for seed as intended. They got a court order prohibiting him to grow the crop. Although the Oglala Sioux have sovereignty on their land and hemp does not have psychoactive properties, the agents operated under a 1968 federal anti-drug law prohibiting the cultivation of Cannabis-related crops. By contrast, the sale of hemp products is allowed in the United States. Issues of tribal sovereignty on this issue are still at play, although the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the DEA action. They acknowledged that the DEA registration process could be a burden for farmers like White Plume.
Early life and education
Alex White Plume was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He grew up strongly connected to traditional Lakota culture. He joined the US Army and was stationed in Berlin, Germany, where he left the US Army in 1978. After returning to Pine Ridge, he lived in the Manderson Housing project with his German wife R. M. His daughter Jessica White Plume stems from this marriage. At that time, he joined the Tribal Police Force as an officer. White Plume's interest in socio-political issues developed later in life.
White Plume has pursued a life of farming but had difficulty succeeding with crops on the limited agricultural lands of the reservation, where physical conditions are harsh and challenging. He and his extended family, or tiospaye, tried alfalfa, barley and corn; they also tried to raise raised horse and bison, which are being raised by ranchers in growing herds on the Great Plains. All yielded little more than subsistence under the harsh conditions.
After considerable research, in 1998 the Oglala Sioux Tribe passed an ordinance to allow the cultivation of low-THC hemp on the reservation. The market for the crop was high around the world, and it is a sustainable product with a short growing season. During World War II, the US government encouraged hemp's cultivation for its qualities of "hardiness, utility and low cost."
In April 2000 White Plume and his family planted industrial hemp on their farm on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He is reportedly the only farmer to date to openly plant, cultivate, and produce cannabis-related crops within the borders of the United States since they were prohibited by federal anti-drug laws in 1968. While hemp products can be sold in the United States, its cultivation is prohibited, a law implemented by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Although related to cannabis, hemp does not have psychoactive properties and is in demand worldwide for a variety of uses, including processing as a cloth and as food.
In addition, White Plume thought that the tribe's sovereignty on its land would enable him to grow the crop. Federal DEA agents made a surprise raid on his field that August and destroyed his crops. In August 2002, he was served with eight civil charges by the US District Attorney related to the hemp cultivation, and a court order prohibiting continued growing of the crop. Although he has appealed, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the DEA, while acknowledging that its registration process could be a burden and that hemp might be a good crop for the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Described as a traditionalist Lakota, White Plume was elected as Vice-President for Oglala Sioux Tribe in November 2004, serving until June 29, 2006. After the tribal council impeached Cecilia Fire Thunder, the tribal president for taking a strong stand and supporting a woman's right to choose in South Dakota, and removed her from her duties, White Plume acted as president until the next election in November 2006.
He was succeeded by John Yellowbird Steele, who had served as president before Fire Thunder was elected.
In 2009 White Plume criticized the two deaths and 19 people hospitalized resulting from James Arthur Ray's crowding 64 people into a sweat lodge. Ray, a non-Native, multimillionaire, self-help guru, had for years been running sweat lodges and retreats for "Spiritual Warriors" - customers who paid a high fee. White Plume said the Lakota were working with other tribes to try to prevent their sacred ceremonies being stolen and abused by such outsiders.
Cecilia Fire Thunder
|President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe
John Yellowbird Steele
- "Standing Silent Nation: Film Description", POV, PBS, 3 July 2007, accessed 5 June 2011
- Chet Brokaw, "Fight with DEA over hemp leaves White Plume broke", Indian Country News, July 2007, accessed 5 June 2011
- Valerie Taliman, "Selling the Sacred", Indian Country Today, 14 October 2009, accessed 5 June 2011