Episode 1. Roger Welsch, “Giving Back What Was Taken,” July 31, 2018, Dannebrog, Nebraska.
Many of [the Pawnees] who come back here have said that they never came back to Nebraska to visit because they heard so much from their grandparents about how a wonderful place it was that they had lost. They couldn't bear to come back and see it gone and now they're coming back because now they can see what they have again, and it's a blessing.
American Indians lost 98% of their land to the United States. But that all happened a long time ago. What was taken cannot be returned, right? Or can it? The farmer and folklorist Roger Welsch gave back his beloved 60 acres in central Nebraska to the Pawnee people, whose ancestors had lived there for thousands of years. Find out what led him to this make this gesture and what impact it has had.
Episode 2. Art and Helen Tanderup and Larry Wright, Jr., “Full Circle,” August 8, 2018, Neligh, Nebraska.
It had been more than 140 years since the Poncas had planted their corn in their homelands in Nebraska. Now, through forging a political alliance and a friendship with Art and Helen Tanderup, a farm family, the Poncas have brought their corn home. Together the Poncas and the Tanderup family have allied to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline that would bisect the family farm and cross the Poncas’ own trail of tears. In 2018 the Tanderups donated ten acres of land to the Poncas.
Tribal chair of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Larry Wright, Jr:
My relatives were being told you're no longer Ponca— the Ponca tribe doesn't exist anymore. And then here we are…. I'm sitting at this table and… accepting a donation from somebody who is giving land back to the Ponca. We wouldn't have thought about that 30 years ago, 20 years ago. We had to scrap and fight for all of the resources that we've been able to get since the tribe has been restored. Here we are on the land that our people roamed, called home, died for and were ultimately removed off.... This is one more thing that helps restore a people and pride in being a Ponca; pride in who we are as Natives; and again, pride in working with somebody who is willing to help our people, and bringing us together.
Episode 3. Paul Olson, “Ally,” September 13, 2018.
I think it's important for white folks to have an Indian center. . . . I grew up in a Swedish community. I'm ethnically a Swede and my parents spoke Swedish and we eat Swedish food—just part of the variety and joy of life, indulging your own ethnicity, but also enjoying other people's ethnicity. And I think it's very important that the Indian center exists as an instrument of native American culture, as a financial, a political center and as an instrument through which the expressive life of native American people can be developed.
How does a professor of medieval literature become an advocate for and ally of American Indians on the Great Plains? Paul Olson came to Nebraska in 1957 after studying at Princeton. Through his work on curriculum reform in English, he started on a journey of friendship and activism with Native Americans on the Great Plains.
Episode 4. Paula Palmer and Jerilyn DeCoteau, Part One: “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change,” Friday, Feb 8, 2019, Boulder, Colorado.
Two intrepid women, one Indigenous and one not, have presented hundreds of transformative workshops across the United States about European colonization of North America, its basis in the doctrine of discovery, and its devastating effect on Indigenous peoples.
Paula: You have the sort of embodied experience of the people who are standing on that land initially, the embodied experience of being moved, being shoved a little bit. Of having the land pulled out from under you, having it disappear around you, having your neighbors disappear around you. And eventually, if we start with 40 people, there will be only four people left standing representing the 10 percent of the indigenous population that survived the first centuries of colonization.
Jerilyn: It's really affirming of identity and . . . lets you know as a native person that you really have a place in this country that has never been really shared with you, never recognized by non-Indians . . . . I mean we're all afraid to occupy space. Well, this whole freaking country is ours, not just this little six by 12 reservation that I live on . . . I have the right to draw a full breath and make a Tarzan sound if I want . . . because this is my country.
Episode 5. Paula Palmer and Jerilyn DeCoteau, Part Two: “Toward Right Relationships,” Friday, February 8, 2019, Boulder, Colorado.
Paula Palmer and Jerilyn DeCoteau have worked together for several years to present workshops across the nation on the injustice and legacy of colonialism. Their partnership led them to an effort to decolonize the very ground they live on in Boulder, Colorado: to welcome the Arapaho people back to their homelands.
Paula: I'm looking for ways that non-native people can understand that we are connected to native people and I think one way is by asking us to think about the land that we know and love, whether it's because our family's settled there or because we live there now, or if it's a vacation spot that we like to go; land that we that we feel a connection with here and then look deeper into the story of that land and maybe ask what does that land remember?
Jerilyn: We can't give all the land back, but what we can do is recognize that we're part of that mindset and something really fundamental has to change in the way that we think about ourselves as people and ask ourselves, why is it, what is it that allows us to treat other human beings in this way? What is it? And how do we stop?
Episode 6. Taylor Keen, “Rematriation,” February 12, 2019, Omaha, Nebraska.
Business professor Taylor Keen has one foot in his father’s Cherokee world and the other in his mother’s Omaha culture. He now spends much of his free time reviving the three sisters—corn, beans, and squash -- in his backyard and across the city of Omaha. He calls his practice of growing and harvesting Native staples an act of rematriation.
First Mother gave us the seeds, and we were instructed with teachings on how to take care of them. . . . I was really blessed to have a number of elders, including my mother, who remembered stories of the old corn. . . . I love when it comes time for the new moon in May and we come together and the men folk, we help prepare the ground and then we turn it over to mothers and [women] of childbearing age, and they’re the ones who plant our seeds.
Episode 7. James Riding In, “The Repatriation Movement,” April 11, 2019, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Pawnee historian James Riding In was one of the first Native Americans to earn a Ph.D. in History. In the 1980s, he researched what happened to the remains of thousands of his ancestors whose graves had been disturbed and looted. Dr. Riding In shares his experiences of working in the repatriation movement to recover his ancestors from museums and historical societies and to properly bury them again in the Pawnee homelands of Nebraska.
At one time there were more deceased Pawnees in museums than living Pawnees. And I think that’s a sad commentary. You know, does it give credence to the old that ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian?’
Episode 8. Deb Echo-Hawk and Ronnie O’Brien, ''The Pawnee Seed Preservation Project,'' December 6, 2019, Lincoln, Nebraska (Part I and II).
Deb Echo-Hawk (right) is the Keeper of the Seeds for the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. Ronnie O’Brien (left) is a passionate gardener and former manager of the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney, Nebraska. In 2003, Ronnie cold-called Deb to see if the Pawnee would grow a garden at the Archway Monument. That momentous hour-long phone call led to the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project, a thriving program in which Pawnees and Nebraska settlers are growing corn together in dozens of gardens throughout Nebraska.
The corn is very sacred. It’s definitely alive. It provided nutrition for hundreds and hundreds of years, and why can’t it help us now when we need it the most? ~Deb
I think there’s a relationship that we all need today. We all need to be taking care of mother earth and we all need to understand our relationships to mother earth and all of the plants that are a part of it. And I’ve had to learn that. I’ve had to completely relearn what it’s like to grow every year, getting a stronger and stronger connection to the plants and into the earth.~ Ronnie
Episode 9. Chairman Darren Parry, Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, October 18, 2019, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Chairman Darren Parry has made it his life’s work to tell the story of how his band of Northwestern Shoshone suffered from a horrific massacre at Bear River in the Cache Valley of southeast Idaho in January of 1863. Few Americans know of this event. Now Parry is leading an effort to build a Shoshone interpretive center on the land where his ancestors were slaughtered.
We need to be able, at the end of the day to reconcile and say, look, tragic events happen and they continue to happen to people in every walk of life today. But how we respond to that will determine our character and who we become. ~Chairman Parry
Credit: thanks to Mikal Eckstrom for his help with this interview.
Photo credit: Cachevalleydaily, January 24, 2020