Perspectives from Pine Ridge

A Lakota youth spends time at a wildlife refuge near Pine Ridge, South Dakota. (Photo by Kelcie Johnson/News21)
A Lakota youth peers over a lake at a wildlife refuge near Pine Ridge, South Dakota. (Photo by Kelcie Johnson/News21)

By Lex Talamo

Though members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota say they don’t favor legalizing recreational marijuana, they might consider medical marijuana – but not any time soon, according to President John Yellow Bird.

Tribal Councilwoman Ellen Fills Pipe visited eight of the nine districts on the Pine Ridge Reservation and spoke with youth about legalizing marijuana. She said the youth told her they wanted the tribe to find other ways to bring in money.

“One child said, ‘We’re already dealing with enough, and now you’re going to add marijuana to it?’” Fills Pipe said. “All of the issues they are dealing with as young people, so much of it goes back to alcohol and drugs.

“If we decide as a tribe to do this, we can’t leave them the problems that they’re growing up with now.”

Darwin Long, Administrator of the Adult Offenders Facility in Pine Ridge, said legalizing marijuana would send a mixed message to the tribe’s children, who are raised with the belief that drugs are bad. He added that marijuana is not a part of the cultural beliefs or ceremonies of the Sioux tribe.

“Growing up, I don’t recall being taught, ‘Oh look over there, Grandson, there’s a marijuana plant, and this is what we use it for,” Long said. “In my personal opinion, I hope it never gets legalized. Period.”


Lex Talamo is a Hearst Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @LexTalamo. Come back in August to see the full News21 report on America’s Weed Rush.