NELIGH, Neb. - Just north of Neligh, Neb., one acre of land, tilled and ready for corn, received special treatment on Sunday. This wasn’t regular corn. It’s sacred blue Ponca corn, being planted directly in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
“This is where they’re from, “ Art Tanderup said. “This is Ponca land, right where we’re standing.”
Technically, it’s Tanderup’s land. He told 10/11 News, the farmstead had been in his wife’s family for more than 100 years. But decades before that, it was Ponca land. Before the U.S. government came in and told the tribe to leave, it was Ponca land. Before the trail of tears, this was Ponca land.
“To have a foreign entity come in and take land, it’s something we empathize with,” tribal chairman, Larry Wright Jr., said.
Sunday, activists, farmers, tribal leaders and members of the Cowboy-Indian Alliance, all showed up to plant sacred corn by hand. The plot of corn and a freshly planted patch of trees are now symbolic barriers to the pipeline.
“This corn is sacred and consequently, this ground is sacred,” Tanderup said.
TransCanada is seeking final approval from the Nebraska Public Service commission to build its pipeline, connecting Canadian tarsands oil from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. To get there, it needs to go through the Cornhusker State.
“Let our ancestors be. Let’s project this land,” Wright Jr. said.
The other concern is the Ogallala Aquifer. It passes right under Tanderup’s Land and would be right underneath the proposed pipeline. Transcanada has guaranteed safety, but Tanderup, Wright Jr., and many others disagree.
“Everyday, we’d be worrying about how the pipeline could leak and contaminate the aquifer beneath us,” Tanderup said.
Transcanada has also promised thousands of jobs and an imporved economy.
“It’s not worth a little boost, for the possible long term side effects,” Wright Jr. said.
10/11 News asked Wright Jr. if the Ponca Tribe anticipated a stand like Standing Rock in North Dakota. He said they hope to learn from Standing Rock, but wasn’t ruling antying out.
“We’re looking at all our options,” he said. “We’ll exercise the ones that are available to us.”
The Nebraska Public Service Commission will hold another public hearing in August in Lincoln to hear from both sides. Its expected to make a ruling sometime after that.