In August 2016, a man named Govinda Dalton arrived at the Sioux Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota to join a growing encampment of indigenous peoples and supporters gathered there to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from desecrating sacred tribal land and polluting the Missouri river. Govinda came with a gift. The van he arrived in was outfitted with solar panels, a recording studio, FM radio transmitter and satellite link-up for live-feed webcasting. Over the next six months, as the crowd grew, tensions swelled and temperatures dropped to forty below, Govinda’s “mobile indigenous media van” allowed water protectors to broadcast strategic messages throughout the camp, as well as news and live footage to the rest of the world.
This is Govinda’s work—from exposing the impacts of uranium mining at the Grand Canyon and its threat to the Navajo people, to examining issues with the US/Mexico border wall slated to cross the ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham, to building “Crow Voices” in Montana, a community radio station of the Crow Nation, which started with teepee poles as its antenna tower. “We want to accent traditional indigenous values and bring up the narrative on what’s going on in indigenous lands and the resource extraction industry,” says Govinda.
Some friends call him Go, and it’s an apt name. The man is constantly on the move and difficult to pin down, but if he does get a rest, it’s in his yurt, far off the grid in a vast Northern California forest, where a collective of families has lived for decades. The air is crisp, clean and quiet—except for the sound of leaves rustling in the wind, and occasional laughter coming from the pond. Wild turkeys run around in packs, and gardens fenced with deer netting sprout vegetables and medicinal herbs. This place is a living, breathing example of Govinda’s vision of community, based largely on the traditional indigenous values for which he so passionately fights.
Govinda started working with the Native American community in 1994, after helping to form Free Radio Berkeley, an unlicensed, or pirate, Bay Area radio station that also built transmitters and sent them around the world to marginalized communities. He began to look at indigenous communities here in the United States, and the issues of tribal sovereignty and treaties, that—though constitutional law—were not being upheld by the United States government. “Indigenous communities never relinquished the airwaves to the US government,” he says, “and using that as a foundation, we connected with various tribes like the Western Shoshone, and the Timbisha Shoshone in Death Valley.”
Govinda would go into these villages, set up radio stations and teach the community how to use them; fixing antennas, recording and archiving audio, conducting interviews. His stations became celebrated as empowering central communication hubs. “The idea was to use the radio to revitalize the language by airing shows that actually spoke the language. This was one component of a cultural renaissance we were looking to facilitate—as well as issues going on with resource extraction, and that’s the way it began.”
“When I got there in August of 2016,” he says, “there were 500 people, and as things went on, there were upwards of 11,000 people. Everyone was fed, there was no economic exchange, and the whole community worked as a single organism in dealing with the infrastructure…”
– Govinda Dalton
With overwhelming problems of resource extraction, indigenous sovereignty and the health and vitality of the planet as a whole, how do we understand the big picture, and where do we look for solutions? Indeed, it all becomes difficult to pin down. But we have to start somewhere. As Govinda puts it: “It’s a mandala of issues. Focus in on one point as you step back, and the whole thing comes into view.” One obvious solution, according to Govinda, is the utilization of industrial hemp—both as a way to offset the environmental impact of other, more harmful industries, but also as a resource for indigenous communities to build economic value and independence in a way that aligns with their traditional values. “For indigenous communities that don’t have any resource base—places like the Dakotas—hemp has been looked at as a strategy for indigenous communities to revitalize and provide for themselves,” he says.
Hemp—a form of cannabis that offers no psychoactive properties (you can’t get high from it)—does offer seemingly countless industrial applications. It can be processed into paper and composite wood products, biofuels, resins and plastics, cosmetics, medicines—the list goes on. Some researchers even speculate the fibers can carry an electric current. Combine hemp with other solutions like wind and solar energies, and we could eliminate the need for pipelines, uranium mining and coal-fired power plants altogether.
Geoff Whaling, president of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, says, “What I’m most excited about is the phytoremediation properties of industrial hemp, that is, a crop that can take contaminants out of the soil. This is a crop that needs no pesticides, no fertilizers and consumes three times the CO2 of any other crop on the planet.” Recently, Geoff helped craft legislation known as the Comer Bill—named for Kentucky Republican Representative James Comer. This would legalize industrial hemp on the federal level. “And the Comer Bill, if it is introduced the way that I saw it, is going to allow tribal councils to grow hemp—a crop that can deliver more revenues per acre than any other crop,” Geoff says.
Hemp has the potential to heal not only our bodies and the planet, but cultural wounds as well. This crop could allow indigenous communities to rise economically and assert their sovereignty in a way that works in harmony with the planet and one another, as opposed to ceding to destructive corporate exploitation. Rather than resource extraction, hemp could be an infusion of resources into the culture of indigenous groups. And perhaps this could facilitate an infusion of indigenous values into mainstream American culture in return.
To Govinda, Standing Rock was a model for the twenty-first century village. “When I got there in August of 2016,” he says, “there were 500 people, and as things went on, there were upwards of 11,000 people. Everyone was fed, there was no economic exchange, and the whole community worked as a single organism in dealing with the infrastructure—bathrooms, showers, communication—and the focus of protecting the water. That brought a continuity of consciousness, Prayer was a living thing that everyone experienced every day as well. The ceremonies added this magic connection to the earth, the water, the resources and each other. That was an exquisite experience to feel the unification of—and really understand—the native term ‘all my relations.’”
Where does that term come from? Govinda says, “It’s a phrase indigenous people use to recognize that we live in a synchronized, unified whole—that we all evolved together with the trees, the birds, the fish and the animals. We don’t see ourselves as separate, but inclusive of all living things.”