The Sioux Turn Hemp into Homes

The Oglala Sioux Tribe, from South Dakota, have been making use of a revolutionary, new building material made from hemp. Hempcrete is much lighter, tougher and more weatherproof than traditional concrete and it offers those who live on the Reservation the long-awaited return to a self-sustainable and independent life. After much legal campaigning, the Slim Butte Land Use Association, or LUA, were recently granted their secured treaty right to cultivate and harvest industrial hemp’, even though it has been growing wild on the Prairies since the 1800s

“It is very important to us that we’re able to grow a crop that allows us to live in balance with Mother Earth,” says Loretta Afraid Of Bear Cook, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Chair of the LUA. “Hemp does not require any chemicals and it allows us to start taking care of our people ourselves.” Joe American Horse, LUA Programme Manager and former President of the Sioux Council added: “Our people used to have buffalo for food, clothing and shelter, now hemp can do all that for us.” In addition to providing them an economic base, the cultivation of hemp will also reduce reliance on diminishing natural resources and contribute to a global ecological health. “This is a way we can help our people and also our environment,” he said.

The provision of solid and durable housing is vital on the Reservation as the tornadoes and violent wind storms often destroy their homes. Former US President, Bill Clinton, visited the area and acknowledged: “There is no more crucial a building block for a strong community and a promising future than a solid home.” LUA members have now completed the building of their first hemp house using entirely their own resourses. The dwelling was for Ernest Afraid of Bear, a 71 year old, Sioux elder and spiritual leader. His age prevented him from obtaining a mortgage to build or buy a conventional home so the tribe decided to build it themselves using the hempcrete. The project was two-fold in that it also provided construction jobs for community members.

Forty acres of reservation have now been designated for the hemp crops. Wheat and cattle prices have declined sharply and are no longer profitable, however, the Tribe has several other plans for sustainable agriculture and husbandry, such as: the reestablishment of buffalo herds, wind generated electricity, the recultivation of the blue herb Echinacea, traditionally grown and used by the Native Americans long before its Western use, and tourism, with new (hemp built) bed and breakfast homes. Many hemp product companies have expressed a desire to buy the oil seed products from the Reservation to be used in everything from the manufacture of cosmetics to tortilla chips.