Vegas Cannabis Magazine

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Nevada's Original Cannabis Resource // Since 2014

>>> with Mary Jane Oatman

Exploring Native American Involvement in Cannabis

As the subjects of diversity and inclusion in cannabis are finally being discussed on a larger scale, advocates for these progessive measures must remember to acknowledge and include those from communities that have been growing cannabis and hemp for centuries before the plant’s eventual prohibition. Native American, First Nations and other Indigenous communities, the communities that arrived here thousands of years before any European settlers and have suffered the absolute worst of continued atrocities and oppression committed upon them (even to this day). The true first inhabitants of the lands that we now live on who’s cultures and stories passed on through generations are rich in tradition and wisdom yet are continually excluded from history classes or outright changed to omit those atrocities committed upon them. Although there’s countless inhumane examples of how America has treated her Indigenous population, one such brutal instance occurred around 1877 to the Nez Perce people of what is now the Columbia River Plateau. After losing over 90 percent of their land to the US federal government via the Treaty of 1855 and much of which was considered sacred and ancestral, the Nez Perce people fought against pursuing onslaughts from the United States Army led by General Oliver Otis Howard across a span of a total of 1,170 miles. In what became known as the Nez Perce War or the Nez Perce Flight of 1877, several thousand Nez Perce people were either killed, wounded or for four hundred of their people, taken prisoner at Fort Leavenworth before being forced to live in the bug-infested swamps near Leavenworth. Even worse, the Nez Perce people weren’t allowed to return to their Pacific Northwest lands, now heavily exploited due to the gold rush, until 1885.

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While both America and Canada have such a long way to go before even a hint of reconciliation can be recognized in response to the horrific programs

committed against Indigenous communities such as the residential schools, the resilient people from those very communities have been making a name for themselves and their cannabis businesses regardless. Due to various differences in tribal law versus US law, tribal-owned dispensaries are actually able to install programs that other stores can’t. The most notable example would be the Tasting Room at Nuwu, located on Paiute tribal land. However, the inclusion of Indigenous people in the cannabis industry is so much more complex than just the first consumption lounge in Las Vegas. Nuwu is actually just one of seven different Native-owned dispensaries in The Silver State and that number will likely increase in time. One such advocate for both Indigenous inclusion in cannabis and for the many long standing issues still facing Native American communities is Mary Jane Oatman. A proud member of the Nez Perce tribe, Oatman was raised in Kamiah, Idaho; a town of less than two thousand but a town with tremendous history and significance for the Nez Perce people. Besides the town containing some of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, Oatman explained that Kamiah is partially the birthplace of the Nez Perce people as a whole. “We were raised with a strong upbringing of the gift of our landscape and recognition of the different responsibilities that come with those gifts.” Oatman explained. “From a really early age, it’s instilled, from many generations passed down, that we have a responsibility to each other as relatives. A part of that fabric of relationships includes all things: plants, animals, water. It’s a rich upbringing in our homeland and learning about my place in our landscape with the creation story of the Nez Perce people.” Even though the cannabis plant has great cultural significance in

BY: josh kasoff many Indigenous cultures, several reservations were raided by the DEA for cannabis cultivation for years on end. Two such individuals arrested and imprisoned for cannabis cultivation were Oatman’s very own grandparents. Along with being proudly Indigenous, Oatman has served advisory roles pertaining to Indigenous matters as revered as being an appointee in President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Indian Education. Around the early parts of Obama’s second term, the first drafts of the 2014 Farm Bill that would eventually decriminalize hemp nationally were being crafted. Despite the bill being far-reaching and allowing the thousands of skilled American farmers to grow one of the most multi-useful crops in the cornucopia of agriculture, Indigenous reservations and tribal lands were inexplicably excluded from the legislation. As the plant is incredibly useful regardless of one’s geographic location and a crop that had been grown for millennia since the first Indigenous people came to what became The Americas, the exclusion of Native reservations was surprising. Upon moving back to Idaho, Oatman began to notice how common Indigenous exclusion was from the many pieces of hemp and cannabis-related legislation filed in the following years. When California fully legalized in 2017, no language pertaining to Native inclusion and legalization on reservations were included in Proposition 64. “I realized that tribes had been left out of the Farm Bill yet states were legalizing at a rapid pace. After 2017, I started to pay more attention to the lack of inclusion of Indigenous people and perspectives in the cannabis legalization that was happening and also noting that there were many tribes that were doing some amazing economic development and activities.” While reservations were eventually included into the historic 2018 Farm Bill, this blatant example of exclusion stayed