In a first-of-its-kind ceremony on June 10th near Neligh, a Nebraska farmer signed a deed returning ancestral tribal land back to the Ponca Tribe — sacred land that lies on the historic Ponca “Trail of Tears.”
The land gifting ceremony and deed signing between farmers Art and Helen Tanderup, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Larry Wright, Jr., and Ponca Nation of Oklahoma Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek took place on Sunday, June 10th, during an event that also included the 5th annual planting of sacred Ponca corn on the Tanderup farm. The event included Native singers and grass dancers, prayers on the land led by Mekasi Camp-Horinek, and the historic signing of the agreement gifting land on the Tanderup family farm to the Ponca Nation.
The farm just north of Neligh has been in Art and Helen Tanderup’s family for generations, and the tract of land that was gifted back to the Ponca has for the past five years been used to restore the Ponca Tribe’s sacred corn to the indigenous people’s ancestral homeland, following a 137-year absence — after the Tribe’s forced removal from their lands by the U.S. government along the “Trail of Tears” route that also crosses the Tanderup farm.
The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska has been working, along with many Nebraskans who wish to preserve this sacred and culturally significant area, to establish federal and local protections and an official historical designation for the Ponca Trail of Tears.
“The bond between the Ponca and the Neligh area has been strong for over 140 years,” said Nebraska farmer and landowner Art Tanderup. “The compassionate burial of Little White Buffalo Girl and the recent Ponca remembrance of Sydney Loofe are historic. The Ponca and people of this community continue to build strong relationships as they work in collaborative efforts. It is only fitting that out of the tragedy of the Ponca Trail of Tears that a small piece of this historic Trail be transferred to them. It is also fitting that the land where we will plant our fifth crop of Sacred Ponca Corn be theirs as well.”
“It’s an honor to be here today to celebrate this gracious and generous donation nation to the Ponca Nation. This event is another step to healing old wounds and bringing our people together again to a land once ours. It offers another opportunity to remind and remember our ancestors who sacrificed the only home they knew, where relatives and loved ones died being removed from their homes. We celebrate this day in their honor and memory and will never forget where we come from and the sacrifices made so that we can be here today,” said Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Larry Wright, Jr. “We stand here today with our relatives and friends who have shown so much dedication, work and perseverance to protecting this land. Our commonality continues to bring us together to protect this precious resource. Today would not be possible without the generosity of Art and Helen Tanderup. It would also not be possible without the work of Mekasi Camp-Horinek, Casey Camp-Horinek and Jane Kleeb and all those with Bold Nebraska.”
“When our alliance with the Tanderup family began several years ago, there was only one goal. Protect our Mother Earth for the future generations, just as our ancestors had. We shared prayers and found the commonality between the forced removal of the Ponca because of the desire for our resources, and the idea of using imminent domain for the same purpose,” said Ponca Nation of Oklahoma Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek. “We unified behind our shared vision of saving the Ogallala Aquifer, the Niobrara, Ni Shude, the winds, the beautiful plains and all the Silent Ones who are part of the cycle of life. As part of this stance for protection, Mekasi Camp-Horinek brought the Ponca sacred corn to a ceremony 5 years ago. These ‘seeds of resistance’ were planted on the proposed route of KXL to create a barrier. It has also turned out to be the beginning of the reunification of a People. The Ponca. Separated by geography, but one in Spirit, we gratefully accept a portion of our trail of tears. Our deepest appreciation and heartfelt prayers are given to Art and Helen Tanderup for feeling for the Mother Earth as we do. Wi btha ha.”
“The Sovereign rights of Tribal Nations, and property rights of farmers and ranchers connect all of us,” said Bold Nebraska founder Jane Kleeb. “In this historic moment, we come together to remind our fellow Americans of our shared history. We are honored that Bold and our unlikely alliance have been a part of helping restore the Ponca’s sacred corn to Nebraska, and are honored to be a part of today’s historic gifting of that land — where we have all come together to plant and harvest the corn for the past five years — back to the Ponca people.”