By Natalie Bruzon
A sacred tradition continued on Saturday as the Ponca Corn “Seeds of Resistance” was harvested at the Art and Helen Tanderup farm near Neligh.
The corn was planted in 2014 by the Cowboy & Indian Alliance when the sacred Ponca corn was returned to the tribe’s ancestral homeland in Nebraska for the first time in 137 years — since the tribe was forcibly removed from Nebraska.
“They (the Nebraska Ponca tribe) lost their corn when they were driven to Oklahoma back in the late 1800s,” explained Tanderup.
The corn originally grew in Niobrara.
“They planted it up in Niobrara and then they had to move after they planted it so they didn’t have anything to take with them,” said Tanderup. “We had a couple people from the Oklahoma tribe who were up here for a spirit camp in 2013, and we were talking about different things, and one of the things we talked about was seeing if they could find some of that corn and bring it back up to its native home.”
The tribes keep a medicine bundle every year, and in that would be some corn seed.
“The gentleman did a lot of searching and he found the person who had that medicine bundle from 1870, or whatever the specific date was, and he was able to get some of that seed,” Tanderup said. “We planted that seed the first year and most of it grew.”
The seed that grew was the Ponca’s sacred red, a corn with a unique red color.
“They had also found some of their blue, and they’d actually worked with the Pawnee down in the Grand Island area the year before to plant some of that,” said Tanderup.
“So we were able to plant that seed, as well as white and a painted and grey corn as well. So we planted that the first year and they took that crop back to Oklahoma and the next year they planted over 80 acres of corn down there,” he added.
Since then, the corn has been replanted on Tanderup’s land, and once a year the Ponca and others gather in Neligh to pick the sacred corn.
“We had a great harvest on Saturday,” Tanderup said. “We had about 45 or 50 people here all together. It was really a good day. We had one lady who was here from Colorado and there was another lady from Waterloo, Iowa who had been Denver, but when she found out about it she stopped by too and helped.”
In addition to commemorating the tribe by planting the corn on land that lies on the historic Ponca Trail of Tears, Tanderup’s land also lies in the path of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The 3.5 acres of sacred Ponca corn planted in Neligh was certified by the USDA, and with the land now protected from Keystone XL, the corn planting and harvests continue to help propagate more Seeds of Resistance, he said.
Since their first planting in Nebraska as a strategy of blocking the Keystone XL pipeline and building a Cowboy and Indian Alliance, Seeds of Resistance have since spread across the world to Ecuador, Minnesota, Wisconsin and other communities standing up to Big Corporations.