By Muriel Young Bear
Editor’s Note: Muriel Young Bear, a member of the Meskwaki Tribe in Tama, Iowa, is pictured above wearing a hemp twine bag. This is recreated from Tribal artifacts found at the Iowa History Museum. Twine Bags are traditional to the Woodland Tribes in the Great Lakes area.
Do you remember the first time you realized the power of the Cannabis plant? Some of us have had a longer relationship than others, but today we are facing a much different world. Some of you may recognize me from social media, but I want to share some details that you may not have heard before. This all started in 2017, when a curious graduate student went on a journey to meet some incredible people and became a business leader working toward a green revolution. I also want to introduce you to others who empowered me, because I did not do this alone.
My Meskwaki name is Mek wiid (Mequish) or “Bear head”. I am a member of the Meskwaki Tribe in Tama, Iowa, and owner of Bear Cub Consulting. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Business at Haskell Indian Nations University, with experience primarily in Tribal Economic development and entrepreneurship. I have been a passionate Industrial hemp advocate, working in education, legislation, cultivation over the past four years. As a business student, I realized the economic opportunities but as an indigenous woman, I was instantly drawn to the environmental and sustainable aspects of Hemp.
Indian communities today face many disparities, including lower life expectancy, a suicide rate that is 2.5 times higher than the rest of the country and widespread poverty on a majority of reservations. Both hemp and cannabis provide plant medicine which can heal our people in a more traditional way versus modern medicine. We must begin to remove restrictions on this plant and re-educate ourselves on what holistic medicine should look like. Plant medicine, such cannabis, organic foods and herbs should be how we heal our communities in the future. I want to help create a community people run to, and not from.
I am inspired by other Indigenous leaders who have also advocated for this plant, such as John Trudell, Deb Haaland, Winona LaDuke and Alex White Plume. It wasn’t until I met Marc Grignon from the Hempstead Project Heart that I learned that indigenous communities used hemp historically in everyday life! This is when my journey became so much more meaningful, because this was nothing new for Tribes; it was actually reclamation! I have been empowered by strong Native women including LaVonne Peck from Native Network Consulting and Mary Jane Oatman at THC magazine. I believe collaboration is very important and working with other woman warriors has been one of the highlights of my career.
There has been artifact evidence recently uncovered that has proven tribes, such as the Nez Pierce, Potawatomi, Meskwaki, Mohawk and Paiute used the fibrous part of the cannabis plant. Some of these items include hats, leggings, bowstring, bandolier bags and twine bags. These can be found in state history archives and national history museums such as the Museum of the American Indian in New York. I have been told stories from tribal members who have found old pipes with THC resin inside. These are the kinds of stories I am looking to uncover more of. My hope is that we utilize the entire plant as we have in the past.
From medicines, fiber and material, hemp is the way for tribal communities to begin a road to self-sufficiency in the form of business opportunities. I have worked to understand viable investment opportunities, as well as educating tribal nations via education sessions, social media and private consultations throughout the Midwest. My goal is to create feasible diversification opportunities in which Tribal Nations can invest, in order to build the much needed American supply chain.
Today, I have moved from consulting to becoming a Hemp Operations Manager, always working on behalf of Tribal Nations and the growing hemp and cannabis industries. This plant falls in line with our traditional beliefs of caring for the environment, and this sustainable resource can also feed, clothe, house and heal the people. The phytoremediation properties clean the soils, while also sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Industrial hemp also requires less water versus many other crops we currently mass produce. Hempcrete homes are fire and mold resistant and can stand for 100 years. I have actually seen and felt the insulation properties on the Pine Ridge reservation, where the FIRST hemp home was built over 10 years ago for the White Plume family. I believe hemp is the way to heal our communities and invest into more sustainable alternatives.
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A member of the Meskwaki Tribe in Tama, Iowa, Muriel Young Bear works in Tribal Economic development and diversification. She began studying hemp markets, supply chains, and business models as a graduate student at the University of Kansas. She founded Bear Cub Consulting in 2017, where she works with tribal communities to diversify Tribal operations, investments and Section 17 corporations in the emerging hemp industry. She is passionate about the sustainable use of land and resources, as well as strengthening sovereignty for tribal nations. Muriel is an alumnus of Haskell Indian Nations University, member of the Hemp Industries Association, and Iowa Hemp Association board member. Muriel has been featured in the documentary “Hemp Road Trip” with Rick Trojan. Contact Muriel for more information here: firstname.lastname@example.org