Native America and the “Weed” Industry

An article by Tyese Williams. Photo:

FEBRUARY 28, 2017: Due to colonization and the removal of Native Americans from their lands by force, Native American tribes across the country have been decimated culturally and economically. Tribes have always relied on the land they hold for a slight level of economic independence. But due to government projects like dams and pipelines, the tribal lands have been either cut off from the tribes or just ruined completely. However, recently an opportunity from the cannabis industry has come to light. Due to loopholes in treaties made by the tribes and federal government granting their tribal nations sovereign status, different tribes have began growing cannabis on their reservations in order to gain income and possibly save their tribes from destruction.

Out west, the Paiute natives of Las Vegas have begun to take this step to help save their tribe. The Paiute tribe, one of the many Native American tribes to suffer and who are still suffering from the colonization and subsequent conquest of their lands, have turned to weed to save them from a total economic collapse. The Paiute live on barren land not fit for growing their traditional crops. Instead, they’ve turned to growing weed in greenhouses on their reservations. In the past tribes turned to the gambling industry in order to bring in revenue, but due to the recent decline in profits, marijuana has become the newest opportunity to replace gambling. The Justice Department released a memo in 2014 giving tribes like the Paiute the ability to grow weed on their land tax free. Marijuana companies in Colorado and California however face tax rates as high as 70 percent on any money made off of their products. The Paiutes have started growing in small quantity and hope to grow enough to help pay for tribal welfare, education and other programs to help save their tribe.

However not every tribal nation has been on board with this, due to the high rates of drug use among tribal youth. The Yakama tribe in Washington has been fighting the growing and distribution of marijuana on their lands. Yakama tribal attorney George Colby told TIME last year, “Citizens in the state of Washington don’t get to vote on what happens.” He goes on to state, “The federal government wasn’t supposed to let alcohol come on the Yakama reservation, and thousands of people have died. We’re not gonna let that happen again.”

The Yakama tribe isn’t alone. In California, the Hoopa Valley tribe is fighting marijuana growth on its lands. Due to meth use, abuse rates have increased 30 percent on some native American reservations correlating to an increase in child abuse by 65 percent on some reservations. The tribe is looking to prevent any new possible drug troubles from entering into their tribe’s lands.

Whatever the case may be, all Native American tribes face a small window as time runs out to help save their tribes from economic and social collapse. Between the debate of whether or not to grow marijuana legally on their lands and the new administration change that has occurred, time is looking quite short for this solution. The Native Americans can only hope that they’ll be able to find some sort of salvation for their nations.

Tyese Williams is a senior at Friendship Collegiate Academy.