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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Native American Tribes & Legal Cannabis - by Joe Dauphinais

     A recent federal raid on a cannabis production operation on Indian land has once again undermined promises made to the Native Americans by the U.S. Government. In December of 2014 the American Justice Department announced that it would no longer litigate marijuana sale and use on reservations. Yet here we are, only seven months later seeing the feds on Indian land bustin heads over natural meds.

     It is the year 2015. How can this kind of malarkey still be happening? Don’t these politicians, police, and judges realize that they are working for the same system that nearly wiped out the original inhabitants of this continent? How many promises can this institution break when it comes to Native American sovereignty? It was the United States government that originally pushed the natives off of sacred ground. Women and children were murdered daily in cold blood in the land of their ancestors by United States soldiers.

     The buffalo, with whom the Indians coexisted with and depended on for tens of thousands of years were nearly made extinct for the sake of sport. Too many aspects of the original religions, customs, and cultures of this land now only exist as museum exhibits, and many others have been erased completely. How can the imposition of any more oppression upon these people be justified? To better understand the argument, here is a brief synopses on how the Indian reservations came to be.

     Following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the U.S. Government nearly succeeded in wiping out the Native population. In 1868 President Grant instituted a ‘peace policy’ and the federal government promised to “split” the land among the surviving tribes, whose leaders were coerced into signing “peace treaties” (surrender terms) and were given a tiny fraction of land ‘reserved’ for the Natives. The term ‘reserve’ or ‘reservations’ is still used to this day. Usually these reservations were insurmountably distant  from their new tenant’s homeland and ancestral hunting grounds. Many did not survive the journey.

     The Natives were forced to leave the land where their fathers and grandfathers hunted. They were forbidden from the rivers and valleys where they harvested fish and planted their crops. They were mandated from the forests where legends and visions were born, and exiled from the plains that gave them life. Often the climate that the Indians were constrained to varied greatly from the lands in which the people originated.

     Finding themselves in a foreign land, the tribes suffered from hunger and starvation, famine, and disease. Desperate, many Indians resolved to fight rather than assimilate, leading to more battles and warfare. By the late 1870’s, Grant’s ‘peace policy’ had lead to so much violence and death that it was widely regarded by the public as a complete failure.

    After the collapse Grant’s ‘peace policy’, Congress passed the Dawes Act in 1887, which changed the structure of granting land to entire tribes, instead focusing on distributing parcels to individual tribe members. While this may sound good on paper, it resulted in even less space being reserved for Indians, with the remainder being given back to white settlers. Another new policy, another broken promise, resulting in even less land available to the Native Americans. This practice of nullifying previous commitments by the Government continued for another fifty years.

     The Indian Reorganization act of 1934 once again changed the United States’ policy on Indian reservations. This law, whose framework remains in place to this day, attempted to grant tribal sovereignty, and was supposed to allocate more land for the Native Americans. While this act did give two million acres of land back to the Indian Nations, within ten years the Federal Government once again reneged on that promise when the new commissioners introduced a ‘withdrawal’ program intended to force Indians back into the general population. With social pressure against this program, the plan was never fully implemented, yet the feds were able to extinguish five tribes: the Ute, Paiute, Coushatta, Menominee, and Klamath, as well as 114 Californian groups who lost their federal recognition as tribes. Those who lost land were guaranteed compensation, but once again the United States backed out of a promise, as most of the refugees were never reimbursed.

     Here in the United States, there are 326 Native American reservations which are recognized by the federal government. Not every tribe has their own reservation,  and not every Indian nation is interested in the marijuana industry, but they should at least have the freedom to do so if they wish.

     Considering the loss of the North American buffalo herd, which was a main staple in the lives of many Native Americans, it seems cruel to deny these people of  any more natural resources, or sustainable sources of income. When taking account for the massive amounts of land taken from the Indian nations, I have sided with the opinion that the natives should be free to do anything they want on the little bit of land they have been allowed.

     Part of the concern and reason for the recent raids is the fear that some of the Indian-grown marijuana might end up leaving the reservations. To me this argument is invalid. There are hundreds if not thousands of reasons why marijuana should no longer be prohibited. Most readers of this magazine are familiar with the benefits of cannabis, and are aware of the benevolent nature of the marijuana high.  We all know it is less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol, yet who is there to raise a stink when  these poisons are shipped into the reservations? Often, tobacco or alcohol distribution into the reservations comes with tax breaks and exemptions. Why can’t this be reciprocated? Let the Natives help supply the nations demand for cannabis.

     It just feels absurd to me that in this day and age, we are still imposing unjust laws upon our own people, as well as the Natives who were here first. I understand that we cannot change the past, but I feel strongly that the present administration and any that come in the future should be more active in securing freedom and liberty to all the inhabitants of this continent, and past promises should be made good on.
     All people of this nation, especially the Native Americans ought to be free to make a comfortable living for themselves and their kin. There is no victim when a consenting adult decides to use cannabis. Free will and liberty are mainstays in many cannabis consumers’ book of ethics, and enforcing these ideas would benefit the greater good for the entire planet.

As the famous Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, Nicholas Black Elk said:

     “Every little thing is sent for something, and in that thing there should be happiness and the power to make happy. Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus we should do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.”

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