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White Plume inspires ‘New Green Revolution’

Alex White Plume and Winona LaDuke (center) pose with contributors to recent hemp education forum in Indian country. COURTESY / Kerri Pickett

OSAGE, Minnesota – Oglala Lakota hemp farmer Alex White Plume co-hosted a  “New Green Revolution” Pre Party here in mid-May. The educational event stressed economists’ assertion that his crop of choice stands to be a leading material in a transformation from fossil fuel dependence to renewable energy stability.

White Plume, known as the “Hemperer”, made a road trip to Osage from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with grandson Mato White Plume to see new Indigenous hemp projects, many inspired by his agricultural business in sovereign tribal lands overlapping South Dakota.

“White Plume’s Hemp work in hemp restoration has been inspirational to many projects nationally, and a number of people were very happy to see him in northern Minnesota,” said Harvard- Radcliffe economist Winona LaDuke. Her Anishinaabe Agriculture farm was the site of the event, and her organization Winona’s Hemp anchored it.

Taking part in the informal gathering were about 50 people from around the region. Workshops featured hemp was in foods, textiles, paper, and construction materials. LaDuke’s vision of a “New Green Revolution” is a movement prioritizing a primary sector based on hemp and carbon-reducing appropriate alternative technology.

White Plume shared stories of his work with hemp in community healing and offered suggestions during various project demonstrations.  Having built a hempcrete house in rural Manderson in the l990s, he was pleased with the new hempcrete building projects inspired by his work 30 years ago.  “I liked seeing the work of our relatives and how this plant is making a comeback,” he commented.

Workshop presenter Roman Vyskocil finished off a hempcrete project, putting some plaster on the outside of a greenhouse dug into a hill. “I’m really pleased with how it turned out,” he told participants, then tracked down White Plume for a photo opportunity.

Hempcrete is a valuable alternative to concrete in many forms of construction. It produces about four times the amount of fiber in a fraction of the time needed for processing an equivalent amount of wood, according to experts at the event.

“That has good opportunity and potential for not only construction, but also the pulp and paper industry, LaDuke said. This spring, the cost of framing lumber, oriented strand board, plywood, and other materials has increased steeply, adding an average of $36,000 to home construction value, she noted.

“That’s causing the building industry to take another look at the centuries of hemp building, and new innovations in hempcrete blocks, which add structural integrity as well as create a reduced carbon house,” she said.

She referred followers to additional sources, among them Charlotte De Bellefroid, spokesperson for Belgium-based IsoHemp. “We have been working to decarbonize the construction sector for 10 years now and we remain 100 percent convinced that the hemp block has a crucial role to play,” De Bellefroid wrote in an email to HempBuild Magazine. The company manufactures 1 million hemp blocks per year and will increase production to 5 million blocks per year with a new robotic factory to keep up with demand.

It will be “impossible” to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, as advocated, “without rapid decarbonization of the building sector,” Alliance to Save Energy President Paula Glover said in a recent statement LaDuke flagged.

Hemp’s more glamorous cousin, cannabis sativa, is going through major expansion in production and sales to fill demand for products used in recreational and medical form. Meanwhile, industrial hemp has been sidelined. However, that’s about to change, LaDuke says. That’s why Anishinaabe Agriculture is interested primarily in fiber hemp, she noted.

According to a research study, the global Industrial Hemp Market was estimated at $5 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $36 billion by 2026. It is expected to develop at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34 percent from 2019 to 2026. “Anishinaabe Agriculture is interested in making sure that Native farmers have a place at the table, not on the menu,” LaDuke said.

Rebuilding an economy with hemp requires a lot of land. “This is not a boutique business,” LaDuke says. Tribal nations have 20 million acres. “Some of that can be hemp and cannabis (after food and buffalo, perhaps),” LaDuke says. “That’s what a real just transition could support.”

George D. Weiblen, the Science Director at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum, attended the hemp conference to meet White Plume and other Native farmers in the region.  White Plume is a hero to the museum director.

Weiblen has been working on hemp and cannabis varieties for the past decade and is keen on building new collaborative relationships with tribes. His department has helped the Sisseton Oyate with its hemp work, and colleagues are assisting Red Lake. Weiblen’s work recently was featured in High Times Magazine.

Indeed, Weiblen’s efforts represent a new era of collaboration between universities and Indigenous peoples, according to LaDuke. An integrated hemp and cannabis economy represents a multi-billion-dollar industry, which is a brand new industry — a brand new pie,” she says. “That is a game changer.” The hemp economy entails the “need to learn together and work together.”

Hemp is considered a carbon sink: Because the plant grows quickly (up to 12 feet in four months), it absorbs huge quantities of carbon, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions that cause destructive climate change.

More than that, the plant can replace carbon intensive manufacturing of materials ranging from plastics to concrete, creating a new carbon friendly economy.  “That’s what we need to survive the decades ahead, and hemp can be a part of that New Green Revolution,” LaDuke advocates.

Hemp’s fast maturation time also makes it ideal for replacing tree fiber in paper, which means that forests can stay intact. “This is very important to protect the natural world, animals and water, and also for jobs,” LaDuke insists. Many Minnesota paper mills are closing down or have been suffering during the times of the recession, pandemic, and reduced sustainable harvests.  Hemp provides for a premium paper product that can be reused several times more than wood fiber paper, while putting paychecks in employee pockets.

Among topics addressed at the hemp event was how legalization of hemp and marijuana can be leveraged to deal a blow to discrimination. “The War on Drugs has hit communities of color hard. Legalization can equal restorative justice,” LaDuke noted.

She cited the American Civil Liberties Union finding that marijuana “has been a key driver of mass criminalization in this country.” Every year, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people — the majority of whom are Black or Latinx — are impacted by  marijuana arrests, it states.

Pushing back are initiatives like that of Karim Webb, who is working to secure dispensary licenses for people of color in Los Angeles. The most lucrative element of the industry is in the consumer sales, and people of color should benefit from the industry, Webb contends.

When her farm’s harvest is in this fall, she plans to hold a hemp hoedown to follow up on the springtime pre party.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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