Tribal Council Hears from Hemp Commission at March 24th Tribal Council Meeting

By Eric Harrold, Staff Writer 

At the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council meeting held on March 24, a lot of conversation centered around hemp production and the regulations that govern the state’s newest commodity crop that was approved by a bill signed into law by Governor Kristi Noem just over a year ago.

Resolution 2020-32 was approved on Feb 4th 2020 to govern hemp production on Rosebud Indian Reservation. The newly designated Hemp Commission approved the bylaws and operating procedures on Jan. 12, 2021. The application for license has been approved for one applicant who is currently undergoing a background check.

At the recent Tribal Council meeting, tribal representatives and members of the Hemp Commission engaged in dialogue that addressed various questions brought about by the passage of the new resolution.

Sun Rose Iron Shell, who serves as the Sovereignty and Cultural Liaison with the Hemp Commission said, “I really believe that this plant will bring us out of some of the dark ages we are in.”

Iron Shell shared some information about THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. “THC levels increase in response to stress,” informed Iron Shell. “Storms passing through can cause an increase in the THC content. Hail and high wind can act as stressors that cause the THC levels of a plant to increase.”

“If growers are growing for CBD it will be a problem, if they’re growing for food, that won’t be such a big problem,” she added. If a big storm comes, growers could test “hot” according to Iron Shell. She is hoping to see changes to laws so that growers won’t be penalized for increased THC levels.

Hemp could solve a lot of problems for tribal communities, Iron Shell insists. “One “crop” it will provide is an alternative to wood and we would be producing our own building material. We wouldn’t need to outsource for wood. It can be used to produce plastic. What if we were the first tribe to be a plastic producer? What if we start producing a protein plant? And all of a sudden we’re the first reservation to defeat diabetes.”

“We can strive to be the first, but we need education and communication to all be on the same page,” continued Iron Shell. “So we want to start by speaking in the language about the plant. I would like to reach out to Lakota speakers to and get on the channel where we talk about this plant and how to grow it, but in the language. I will do a call-out for language speakers, anybody who wants to be involved, because it is an oyate, it is a plant and it can help us. It’s been here for a quite a while. There are two different versions. One version is called Indian hemp and it has been on Turtle Island since time immemorial. Another one came in the 1600s with the Conquistadores. So it’s been here for a while and there is archaeological evidence that our people used it for fibers. There is archeological evidence of clothing made out of hemp.”

Council representative Robert Rattling Leaf had several questions for members of the Hemp Commission. “You mentioned that the level of THC falls or rises according to stress such as storms. Who enforces the levels of hemp,” asked Rattling Leaf. “If I’m growing and the THC level went over 4, who is going to be addressing my violation to me?”

Hemp Commission Chairman Rod Bordeaux responded, “That’s one of the new final rules in the USDA. They know there is going to be these variances. The hemp seed itself that you’re going to plant, the plant should not produce more than that THC level.”

“Could a non-Indian apply for a permit to be a grower?” inquired Rattling Leaf.

“Technically yes,” answered Bordeaux.

Rattling Leaf continued, “So now if a grower applies for a permit and gets a permit, where are you going to grow it? Does he have to lease land? How do you go about that?”

Bordeaux: “So that’s where the land issue comes in. You could have your own land so you’re working with either TLE or either you’re working with the Bureau.”

Rattling Leaf: “So technically a Lakota could lease some tribal land and then sublease it to a Wasichu to raise cattle. So as a Lakota can I lease tribal land and then sublease it to a Wasichu hemp grower?”

Bordeaux: “No.”

Rattling Leaf: “You just mentioned something about some people contacting you, one state you mentioned and another from Nebraska. What was the purpose of that?”

Bordeaux: “I believe that they’re both, how would you say, on the processing end. If you’re gonna grow hemp, you’re growing it for something specific. Let’s say for the seed itself which you can harvest like wheat. But you gotta sell that wheat somewhere. Then that wheat gets processed into flour or whatever.”

Rattling Leaf: “From your recollection or that of your commission staff members, have you guys ever been contacted from anybody from Arizona?”

Bordeaux: “Not yet, no.”

Rattling Leaf – “Are you aware of the name Dineh Benally?”

Bordeaux : “No, I’m not.”

Rattling Leaf: “The reason why I brought that up is I got a news article here. Pine Ridge Reservation banned him because he is trying to negotiate with Pine Ridge regarding growing of hemp and the growing of marijuana. In the Southwest he’s not very well liked because the research they did on him in the Southwest is that he’s been circumventing laws and he’s been utilizing land without the Navajo Nation’s permission to grow this stuff. He’s potentially involved in criminal activity when it comes to his operations.”

“So when other people contact you about production, implementation and processing hemp, do you do any research or background check on these people to make sure that they’re a legitimate and not fly-by-night company?”

Bordeaux: “We do have a lot of checks and balances built into the application process itself. Come to think of it that guy you mentioned, I’ve heard of him so he’s on the radar.”

Rattling Leaf: “There is going to be some people that are going to try to circumvent our laws because of this.”

Bordeaux: “Hopefully we have enough checks and balances in place so that would not happen. We want to work with our own tribal members.”

Rattling Leaf: “I hope we would work with tribal members first before we start expanding into the wasichus.”

Iron Shell: “Going back to your testing hot, you can have up to three years. If you test hot and we understand that its only a little bit over and it wasn’t your fault, we can be okay with that. The next year if you test hot and its like clearly above the level, we’re going to have to say no, that’s not hemp. Or maybe its not your mistake again and its maybe just that five or 0.5, very low still , then its not considered negligence.

Rattling Leaf: “What are the consequences for going over the wall? If you guys keep testing me hot for three years? Are you going to through me in jail and plow over my field or what are the consequences?”

Bordeaux: “In that case that’s where other agencies get involved, let’s say DEA. Then it’s out of our hands.”

Rattling Leaf: “Then it start’s turning criminal?”

Iron Shell: “If its only 0.5 or 0.2, that’s not considered negligence. But if it tests hot like 20% that first year, then the second year its 22%, and then the third year its 22% again, then that’s obviously criminal.”

Rattling Leaf: “Where are you guys going to send it to test it? Do you have a facility somewhere or a contract somewhere. Can we do the testing ourselves?”

Bordeaux: “We can test it ourselves. There is a lab in Flandreau which is DEA-certified.”

Rattling Leaf: “If we are going to be testing our own, are you guys going to be having some people on staff that are certified so that it will hold up in court, should you end up in court?”

Bordeaux: “Well we would hope to get them certified. You can test as many times as you want. You can get an independent tester. Basically before harvest is when we would do a test.”

Rattling Leaf: “So you guys could test and if it keeps coming up hot, you could send it to a lab to confirm?”

Bordeaux: “So then of course we’d need to verify that and of course get the report back. But there again, rather than just destroying everything you did during that growing season, make it into something else, and then still be able to reap some product.”

Iron Shell: “In the long run, it would be another ‘great first’ to be the first tribe to have our own testing facility. And at SGU that can happen with cooperation and getting funding and we could build our own test then everyone in SD could come test with us. We’re also creating that revenue for this medical field that has just been legalized for the state.”

Bordeaux: “If we could get SGU on board on the educational liason side, to create some educational curriculum around hemp production, processing…yeah I’m hoping we can get them on board. And of course if we could get a degree going…”

Members of the commission were asked to give a quick synopsis of how someone would apply, and what has to happen for them to get a license?

Bordeaux: “The application is online. Once you complete an application and pay the application fee.”

Iron Shell: “The first step would be the background check and $45 to the attorney general’s office to get the background check. Filling out the application, you would list yourself and the key participants, so there is the main grower and their family and anybody else who is going to be touching the crop, managing the crop, we want their name on the application to and the gps coordinates.”

Bordeaux: “The application is kind of self-explanatory. Once you complete the application is completed and submitted, then you go through the background check through the tribal attorney general’s office. Once we get all that information back it will go to the Commission to determine if you get the license. It is a fairly simple process with checks and balances.”

Lisa White Pipe: “Will the background check target criminal charges, drug charges, or will it include a financial background check?”

Iron Shell: “Mostly criminal or felonies. They cannot have any criminal charges for the past ten years.”

White Pipe: “Any type? Misdemeanors?”

Bordeaux: “What’s the definition of ‘criminal’? We’ll determine that once the report comes back. It’s all going to be on an individual basis. The key personnel that you’re going to be working with…the bulk of the responsibility is going to be on the initial applicant.”

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