It’s important to set the historical record straight: George Washington did not grow marijuana. He grew hemp for industrial purposes like rope and clothing, as did many other founding fathers and colonists. But, his hemp may have been a little different than our hemp.
“We’re praying to the rising sun. We’re praying to the setting sun. We’re bringing in the sacred songs. We’re building the sacred fire.”
–Uqualla of the Havasupai Nation speaking at Standing Rock
“North america is now a land ruled by oil, and the gun.”
–Carol Surveyor of the Diné Nation speaking about Standing Rock
Learning from the Past
There is an excitment in the hemp industry these days. It’s similar to how folks felt when Dr. Bronner’s was winning lawsuits against the Bush Administration in the early 2000’s: anything is possible. laws are changing, Native American tribes are beginning to grow hemp, new innovations are making it possible to turn hemp into 3-D printing materials and new medicines. This may not just be another hype. It could be the real deal, the big resurgence of the hemp industry that we have been waiting for. But, as with any resurgence, there is risk. Risk of throwing all of our eggs into one basket, risk of ignoring the limits and difficulties imposed by production and markets. The risk of assuming that we are the “good guys”, just because we have been the underdogs. The risk should not scare us away, but it can give us pause, and remind us to look back and see what we can learn from the past.
In my second installment of “the Old Story of a New Industry,” I will look at the hemp industry in the period between two big, nation-defining wars: the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In this time, the industry peaked and, almost overnight, declined dramatically. In this era, major issues in the hemp industry emerged that are with us still today surrounding issues of labor, politics, and industry interdependence. This is the story of a booming industry resting on an unstable foundation, which can teach us a thing or two about our modern hemp industry.
FILLING THE GENERATIONAL VOID
Once upon a time, on the Menominee reservation in Northeastern Wisconsin, there was a big pine snake. The big pine snake would slither its way into Marcus Grignon’s grandfather’s garden on the regular. The snake liked to eat the little critters that they found there, like rabbits, mice, and other rodents. One day, Marcus Grignon’s father ran into the snake. He was a small boy at the time, but he still instinctively wanted to protect himself and his family by killing the big snake. “Don’t do that, he protects my garden,” said Grignon’s grandfather, who had observed his scaly friend eating all of the rodents who would otherwise eat his vegetables. He knew that the snake was a vital part of his garden ecology, that the serpent helped protect his family. Marcus Grignon tells me this story like a myth, with a reverence and a slight melancholy. Much of his grandfather’s ecology has been forgotten in what Grignon calls a “generational void”.
This Roundup: My dispatch from HIA’s “Future of Hemp” conference this week. Hemp is seeing support from both sides of the political aisle (and the back row, the balcony, and the even those waiting outside to get in). Everyone is still confused about industrial hemp laws. All the while, across the Pacific in Oceania, Australia and New Zealand are hopping into hemp like a couple of kangaroos.
History Repeats Itself
Three hundred years ago, the government of the American colonies paid farmers to grow hemp. The government feared that a single crop economy was developing around tobacco, which is hard on the soil and subject to great market fluctuations, so hemp was promoted as a viable alternative in the New World. Fast forward three centuries to this week, and we see an article about hemp researchers at James Madison University, which quotes a professor involved in the project, “We’re hoping, particularly, farmers who may have been involved in something like tobacco farming and are looking for alternatives, this may be a way to save small family farms, give them a healthy crop alternative.” I don’t need to say it, but I will: history repeats itself.