In possible roadblock for Keystone XL, pipeline opponents gift land to Ponca

In possible roadblock for Keystone XL, pipeline opponents gift land to Ponca
Art Tanderup gives instructions on planting sacred corn in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline at his farm near Neligh last year. (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — For five years, opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline and members of the Ponca Indian Tribe have sown native tribal corn in the path of the controversial project as a form of resistance.

Now they’ve planted another potential roadblock.

Last weekend, Art and Helen Tanderup, who farm north of Neligh, Nebraska, deeded the 1.6-acre plot of native corn to the native inhabitants of the land, the Ponca.

Selling the land to the Ponca means not only that TransCanada will have to negotiate with a new landowner, but one that has special legal status as a tribe — a tribe that is opposed to the pipeline. The plot becomes the only tribally owned plot of land on the XL pipeline route in the U.S.

“We want to protect this land. We don’t want to see a pipeline go through,” said Larry Wright Jr., the chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. “If this adds another layer (of opposition) to that issue, we’re happy to be part of that.”

TransCanada officials did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. The company has recently been holding meetings with landowners along the pipeline route across Nebraska that was recently approved by the State Public Service Commission.

Art Tanderup, who used to teach at Tekamah near the Omaha Indian Reservation, said the gift of the land was several years in the making. He said that providing another barrier to the pipeline was just one of the reasons.

Five years ago, his farm was the site of a “spirit camp” of Native Americans protesting the Keystone XL. During that gathering, he said he learned about how the Ponca consider their variety of corn sacred and how it had not been planted in Nebraska since Chief Standing Bear lead the Ponca on their march to Oklahoma.

The Neligh area has a special bond with the Ponca. During their walk 141 years ago, several women and children became sick during a particularly wet and cold spring. One child, White Buffalo Girl, died of pneumonia as the party of Poncas camped overnight in the mud near Neligh.

Townspeople organized a Christian burial for the girl and a local minister presided over a graveside service that was translated into Ponca. The girl’s father asked that Neligh treat the grave as if this child was one of their own. The community erected a marble monument at the site in 1913, and has cared for the grave ever since.

There’s a state historical marker in Neligh that tells the story, and the Tanderups were involved in a trail commemoration with the Poncas a few years ago.

“We’ve got to know so many people and consider them great friends,” Art Tanderup said.

Recently, the Ponca dedicated a bench at a Neligh park in memory of Sydney Loofe, who disappeared and was later found dead last year.

Tanderup said the gift of his land gives the Nebraska and Oklahoma Poncas ownership of part of the Trail of Tears, and was “only fitting” given the connection between the tribe and Neligh.

The plot was planted to Ponca corn during a ceremony that included dancers, and Tanderup said more seed corn will be provided for more plantings of native corn elsewhere.

Bold Nebraska recently announced that it was constructing three more solar energy panels in the path of the Keystone XL in Nebraska and South Dakota.

The decade-old pipeline project, which was revived by the Trump administration last year, is in somewhat of a holding pattern. Lawsuits are still pending with the Nebraska Supreme Court and U.S. District Court in Montana, and TransCanada is still gathering financial commitments to use the 36-inch pipeline. It will carry thick tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

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