Lakota Nation: Documentary Premieres
Standing Silent Nation, a documentary on a Lakota family struggling to develop a hemp industry on the Pine Ridge reservation will premiere during the
Below is an article published by the
Documentary filmmakers Courtney Hermann and Suree Towfighnia first met while studying at Columbia College Chicago. Hermann, originally from
City Paper: The original idea for this documentary was essentially a survey of the history of hemp in
Courtney Hermann: We spoke to one man who had grown hemp during World War II, and we spoke to people who were interested in growing it now, but there was only one guy who was growing it within the boundaries of the
CP: The movie traces some of the White Plume court battles. Where do they stand now?
CH: They lost their federal case in the
CP: How aware were you of the conditions for Native Americans when you started shooting?
CH: I was not aware of it at all. I thought reservations were these places that were kind of disappearing, and there was this terrible genocide and now the genocide is continuing, and I had assumed that there were only these small pockets of Native culture that were left, and most of them were dying out. But the reality is that Native people are still here, and their population is growing. There's hundreds of tribes. There are some that are not recognized by the federal government. There are also tribes that don't have a land base anymore. There are also tribes that never signed treaties. So it's really complicated, and to make matters crazier, the status of Native people in this country is essentially that they are wards of the state. Even if it's treaty land that people are living on, even if it's reservation land, their lands are still held in trust by the federal government.
CP: What does it mean to have your land held in trust?
CH: On Pine Ridge, if you fence your land to the specs that are required, then the federal government considers that land to be in use by the owners. If you don't have the resources to fence your land, the federal government has the right to lease out that land to anyone they want. Often on Pine Ridge, when the land gets leased out, it's to white ranchers who are primarily raising cattle. So the lands are not in full control of the people who supposedly own them. The federal government can pretty much do whatever they want to with those lands. For example, there's an old bombing range on Pine Ridge, and there's still shells out there that may not be detonated, so you can't even walk out there.
CP: It seems that the dispute is really more about land use than it is about growing hemp.
CH: I think the hemp struggle has come about as a result of the White Plumes' desire to use their land in a sustainable way, to create economic development for their family. And by extension, if a hemp industry did develop, then many other tribes would benefit. I think that anything the White Plumes do on their land is about land-use issues. The reason that hemp was so attractive to the White Plumes was that it's very easy to grow, and the soil in
CP: What do you wish for your viewers to take from Standing Silent Nation?
CH: When Americans watch the piece, I feel that Suree and I are providing them the same learning experience that we had when we undertook this project. I really think that people in this country are not aware of native issues. They're not aware of the binding treaties that still exist between the
There's 80 to 85 percent unemployment on Pine Ridge. People are living in substandard housing where they have no electricity. They have no plumbing. It's really hard for me to describe how desperate the circumstances really are, because it's unbelievable that within the boundaries of this country, there are people who are living in