This spring, after gathering on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota and then in Colorado, tribal “hempsters” are working toward a renaissance of the plant that once clothed much of Europe and North America. Tribal hemp growers from the Meskwaki, Lakota, Menominee, Mandan, Hidatsa, Colville and other Native nations are planting the seeds of a new economy—responding with an innovative and holistic approach to the many challenges Native and non-Native communities face.
These new, young tribal leaders are taking a place at the table of the $700 million U.S. hemp industry—an industry that can literally transform much of the material, food and energy world. As hemp returns as a viable part of food, clothing, housing, medicine and fuel systems, tribal hemp leaders are keen to not only be a part of the industry, but to transform their communities.
In early April, at the NoCo Hemp Expo in Loveland, Colo., the near limitless potential of hemp was on display. An estimated crowd of 10,000 curious enthusiasts, among them Native people, crowded into the convention center to view hemp in forms you can fuel your car with, eat in chocolate or pesto sauce, slather on as shampoo, and wear. The trade show was not about “bongs” and tie-dye—rather, it featured the latest harvesting and processing equipment, innovations in hemp farming and up-to-date regulatory analysis.
The industry has certainly arrived in good time.
April 7, 2018—Winona LaDuke (third from the left) and Muriel YoungBear (center) gather with other indigenous hemp leaders for a picture at the NoCo Hemp Expo in Loveland, Colo. (Image: Sarah LittleRedfeather)
Muriel YoungBear, a member of the Meskwaki Nation in Tama, Iowa, is a second year attendee of the expo. Currently a University of Kansas graduate student studying business, she’s been attending hemp-related conferences, networking with industry leaders,