*** Standing Silent Nation broadcasts on PBS’s award-winning documentary series P.O.V. on Tuesday, July 3rd. Check your local listings for times. Check out the POV's website to learn more about POV, to watch the trailer, or to set up an e-mail reminder for the broadcast.****
What does a family have to endure to create a future for itself?
Standing Silent Nation is an independent documentary that chronicles the struggle of a Lakota Indian family to develop a hemp industry on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Since 2000, Alex White Plume and his tiospaye (extended family) has grown industrial hemp. But each year, their harvest is disrupted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which fails to acknowledge a difference between hemp and marijuana. Two years in a row, armed federal agents arrived on the Pine Ridge reservation and weed-whacked the family's hemp fields just as they were about to be harvested. Then, in 2002, agents arrived with a restraining order prohibiting that year's harvest, and issued a subpoena detailing 8 civil charges against the White Plumes, who continue to await trial.
It's not just about our family growing hemp. It's about a bigger question about tribal sovereignty. It's about treaty rights. Sovereignty isn't something that you ask somebody for, sovereignty is something you assert. We want our sovereignty.
Debra White Plume
Dawn breaks over the windswept South Dakota landscape. The whir of an approaching helicopter interrupts the stillness of the early morning. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a phone rings at the White Plume household. Alex White Plume wakes to answer a call from his little brother, Percy. "Heepalo," Percy says. "They arrived." Percy doesn't say who, but Alex knows who he means.
Alex showers, makes some coffee, and prepares to go to jail. He waits, but when no one comes up to the house to arrest him, he changes his course of action and moves to defend his family's land.
A helicopter circles overhead as a U-Haul drives across the hemp field and parks. Twenty-five U.S. Marshals, FBI, and DEA agents exit their vehicles. Armed with machine guns and weed-whackers, they descend upon the small crop of industrial hemp.
Alex leaps from his pickup truck. Agents block him from entering the field. Alex responds, "You're violating tribal law. This is our family land, our tiospaye's land. You're violating us. And you're taking something we planted. We're going to sell that. People are coming to buy that. You can't do this to us!" Undeterred, the agents begin weed-whacking the crop to the ground.
On August 10, 2002, the crew of Standing Silent Nation arrived at the White Plume tiospaye on the Pine Ridge Reservation. When we met Alex, he apologized for being in a bad mood on such a beautiful morning. Ten minutes before, federal agents served him with a summons that detailed 8 civil charges filed against him by the U.S. District Attorney.
Our purpose in visiting Pine Ridge was to meet Alex, the first person to grow industrial hemp within the boundaries of the United States in over 40 years. We wanted to document his harvest celebration.
The film had originally dealt with the American farm community's right to grow industrial hemp. When we met Alex, our focus shifted. We now see hemp as a vehicle through which a larger and arguably more important issue is playing out: the sovereignty of the Lakota Nation.