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Debra White Plume, Defender of Her Tribe, Is Dead at 66

She married Alex White Plume in 1988, and the couple settled down in a modest house along the banks of Wounded Knee Creek. There they reared their nine children and raised horses and a small herd of buffalo, which they kept for spiritual and cultural purposes.

The White Plumes gained news media attention in 1998 for planting industrial hemp, one of the few crops that could grow on the reservation, without Drug Enforcement Administration approval. (The crop is a species of cannabis.) Mr. White Plume reasoned that because the reservation was sovereign Lakota territory, federal laws prohibiting hemp farming did not apply. The courts, however, disagreed and ordered the plants destroyed. (Congress legalized production in 2018.)

Ms. White Plume appears briefly in the Michael Apted documentary “Incident at Oglala” (1992), about the murders of two F.B.I. agents in 1975 and the conviction of the Native American activist Leonard Peltier in the killings. And she is featured in the documentaries “Standing Silent Nation” (2006), about hemp farming, and “Crying Earth Rise Up” (2015), about the dangers of uranium mining.

In addition to her husband, Ms. White Plume is survived by their children — Johnny Joe White Plume, Lance Martin, Wacinhin Ska Win Rosebud White Plume, Jessica White Plume, Wiwang Waci Win Camp, Vic Camp, Posh Camp, Dallas White Plume and Sam Tall — as well as many grandchildren.

She dedicated her last years to Ama’s Freedom School, which she founded. A school without walls, it teaches traditional Lakota culture outside the regular school system. (Ama means memory in the Lakota language.)

If Ms. White Plume had mellowed over the years, it was only a little, and her objectives remained the same. Speaking during the Standing Rock protests, she said:

“I fought with cops before. I’ve been shot at by police. I’ve been shot by police. We got it on with police on Pine Ridge back in the day, so I understand that rage. But when we’re together to protect sacred water, let’s do it with dignity, let’s do it with training, let’s do it with unity.”


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