NELIGH — In a first-of-its-kind ceremony Sunday near here, a Northeast Nebraska farm couple 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 the Tanderup farm.

It was part of events that also included the fifth annual planting of sacred Ponca corn on the Tanderup farm. The event included Native American singers and grass dancers and prayers on the land.

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 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. The planting of the corn followed 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 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,” Art Tanderup said. “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.”

Wright said, “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.”

The Tanderups and the Ponca tribe representatives have worked together, along with Bold Nebraska representatives, in recent years also to oppose the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that cross the Tanderup property.

"We are honored that Bold Nebraska 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,” said Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska.

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