Tribe Protests Keystone by Planting Sacred Seeds

In 1877, the Ponca tribe was seen as a role model of what the United States government was trying to achieve with Native Americans. The tribe had signed four treaties with the United States government, given up much of its territory in Nebraska, settled into farming life, and built churches.

And as payment, the tribe was removed from its land and marched south to Oklahoma along what is known today as the “Ponca Trail of Tears.” The strenuous journey, plagued by extreme weather, claimed the lives of nine Ponca, including Chief Standing Bear’s daughter, Prairie Flower, and White Buffalo Girl, the daughter of Black Elk and Moon Hawk.

Now the Ponca, who have returned to their home on the Niobrara River in Nebraska, are faced with more promises from the U.S. government, this time in the form of the Keystone XL Pipeline. But the Ponca have decided to make some promises of their own.

Photo by Mary Anne Andrei / Bold Nebraska
Sacred corn planting (Photo by Mary Anne Andrei / Bold Nebraska)

The Ponca Plant Sacred Seeds

Earlier this month, on May 31st and June 1st, members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance and allies came together at the farm of Art Tanderup near Neligh, Nebraska, to hand plant sacred Ponka red corn seeds. The farm is located on the sites of both the historic Ponca Trail of Tears and the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route.

“Our family is honored to have sacred Ponca corn seed planted here on our farm,” said Tanderup. “The people of Neligh, in 1877, assisted the Ponca in burying White Buffalo Girl who died on the Ponca Trail of Tears. Over one hundred years later, that spirit of humanity continues as we join with our friends and neighbors in replenishing their sacred corn and fighting against Keystone XL.”

Members of the Ponca tribe performed a sacred corn planting ceremony led by Mekasi Horinek, the son of Casey Camp-Hornik, a long-time Native rights activist and environmentalist, and Amos Hinton, Agricultural Director of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. After the ceremony, the group hand planted approximately four acres of sacred Ponka red corn seed.

“We’re going to stand together with the cowboys — the ranchers and the farmers — in our Nebraska homeland,” said Horinek. “Together our families will plant sacred red corn seed in our ancestral soil. As the corn grows it will stand strong for us, to help us protect and keep Mother Earth safe for our children, as we fight this battle against the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

Hinton is working to find and restore the tribe’s five varietals of heirloom corn and establish a seed bank to preserve the seeds for future generations. His hope is that the Tanderup farm will be maintained as another growing site for the historic corn seeds.

“In our creation story the Creator gave us three original gifts: red corn, a dog, and a bow,” explained Hinton. “I am honored to be able to provide my tribe with this historic sacred red corn, which we had not seen since my people were forced to leave Nebraska.”

jim dougherty - road to the White House
The Cowboy and Indian Alliance March in Washington, DC April 22, 2014 (Photo by Jim Dougherty/ Reject + Protect)

Bringing the Fight to Washington, DC

Planting sacred seeds wasn’t the first act of protest from the Cowboy and Indian Alliance. The collective of farmers, ranchers, and tribal communities from along the proposed pipeline route gained national attention on April 22, 2014 when they rode into Washington, DC and set up camp near the White House.

“Today, boots and moccasins showed President Obama an unlikely alliance has his back to reject Keystone XL to protect our land and water,” said Jane Kleeb, Executive Director of Bold Nebraska, a grassroots organization that has opposed the pipeline as bad for the state’s environment and economy.

The rally came a week after the Obama administration announced that it had delayed a decision to approve or reject the Keystone XL Pipeline. The State Department is currently waiting for the results of legal challenges.

Photo by Bold Nebraksa
Ponca Sacred Corn Planting (Photo by Mary Anne Andrei / Bold Nebraska)

Will the Ponca See the Seeds Grow?

As Native Americans throughout the U.S. battle to protect land they consider sacred, perhaps it would behoove the federal government to listen to the tribes for a change. This is the land of their grandmothers and grandfathers, and their grandmothers and grandfathers before them. They cared for the land and the land cared for them — for generations.

In our modern world, where addiction to oil and genetically-modified corn seeds are all too prevalent, the Ponca and their sacred seeds are promising a breath of fresh air. Perhaps the federal government should believe their promises for once and allow them to watch the seeds grow.

News and Photo Source: Bold Nebraska 

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .