Editor;s note: Interviews for this story on the potential of an industrial hemp operation on the Navajo Nation were conducted prior to Aug. 24 when agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized thousands of hemp plants on two plots on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Grand jury indictments are expected. The plants were being raised for a building project, meeting requirements of a 1998 Oglala Sioux Tribal ordinance. However, Earl Tulley says that action will have no effect on plans on the Navajo Nation. “The sky is not falling here.”
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo entrepreneurs are urging new Navajo Nation laws to permit cultivation of industrial hemp, citing research showing profits from small-scale farms.
Encouraging the cultivation of hemp as a cash crop, and for Navajo food and clothing, Earl Tulley says, “Hemp is better than the edible egg.
“We’re here. We are people of the Earth, and we want to grow our own economy.”
Tulley said efforts to introduce hemp follow the language of the Navajo Treaty of 1868, which urges self-sufficiency in the cultivation of land and production of clothing.
Pointing out that hemp crops add nitrogen to the soil, Tulley sees multiple possibilities, from producing oil and profitable fibers to establishing a Navajo seed bank.
“It’s going to be better than the casino. It is going to put us back to working. It is going to get us out from in front of the TV and out working the land.”
The Navajo Nation Council recently passed the first of two resolutions necessary for the legal cultivation of hemp. The first resolution changed an existing law that allowed for the legal possession of one ounce of marijuana on the Navajo Nation.
“We had to make sure there is zero tolerance,” Tulley said.
Changing the law was necessary for the protection of small businessmen who want to avoid confusion about the purpose of growing industrial hemp. “We wanted to put people at ease. This was done for those who think that everyone is going to be out in the cornfields smoking.”
Tulley said the agricultural crop lacks the properties of marijuana used to obtain an altered state of consciousness.
“The way I explain it to my mother is, ‘It’s like blue corn and yellow corn.’ People would have to smoke a cigarette the size of a telephone pole (to get high).”
Tulley, working with Ervin Keeswood, tribal councilman from Hogback, N.M., said the second legislation, now being drafted, will further allow for legal hemp crops.
Christopher Boucher, president of Hempstead Corp., in Laguna Beach, Calif., is a consultant to the Navajos’ proposing hemp cultivation.
Boucher said American Indian tribes could cash in on the $100 million hemp foods industry. The greatest profits are in production and sale of hemp oil for hemp nut butter, shampoo and cosmetics.
“It is ideal for the Navajo Nation. They can develop their own seed and have a plant that grows in their climate.”
Hemp stalk is in demand in the production of a popular horse bedding. The shredded stalk produces anti-bacterial bedding.
“The horses love it,” Boucher says.
Lakotas on Pine Ridge are already cultivating industrial hemp, he said, in hopes the fibers can be used to produce building materials.
“It is a home-based economic endeavor. Most of the developed nations are growing hemp, except for the United States.”
Boucher said the domestic commercial market is ripe because U.S.-based industries now have to purchase hemp products from China, Canada and elsewhere, paying costly tariffs.
Hemp fibers are now in demand by the automotive industry.
After the EPA discovered that the “new car smell” in automobiles was actually a scent from glue pollutants that exceeds allowable standards, Ford Motor Co. switched to hemp for door panel fibers for Mercedes-Benz.
Hemp has exceptional properties, Boucher said.
“The fibers are termite and mold resistant. As a food source, hemp seed is the most perfect essential fatty acid.”
While seeds were once a mainstay of survival, humanity moved away from seeds as food during the past 100 years. The result has been more degenerative diseases such as arthritis and diseases of the heart and kidneys, he said.
“It is essential to life as we know it,” he said of the essential fatty acids.
Further, the seeds have the highest concentration of digestible protein. Although soy is often cited in this category, soy protein is not as digestible as hemp.
In the fields, most pests dislike it. “It is easy to grow and harvest.”
England’s popular Body Shop is a good example of a company that contracts directly with Canadian farmers for hemp products for their lotions and bath products.
Jeff Gain, chairman of the board of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Alternative Agricultural Research and Commercialization Corp., is among the hemp advocates.
Pointing out that hemp can be used in everything from rope to car bodies and food and clothing, Gain says, “We must have diversity, crops like hemp that grow without pesticides.”
Boucher said his company is ecology based and views hemp as an alternative for a society polluting its oceans with oil spills.
“Hemp looks like a solution to oil-based economies. We need to go back to agricultural-based economies.”
Tulley, an environmentalist and cofounder of Din? Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment which halted clear-cutting of Navajo forests, says cultivation of hemp could eventually lead to a decrease for the demand of lumber for paper products.
“It can keep us from cutting down our forests.”
He said globally, mankind needs to return to agricultural-based societies.
“The people who control the food, control the world.”