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Activists plan final harvest of sacred Ponca corn, planted in path of Keystone XL pipeline

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Activists plan final harvest of sacred Ponca corn, planted in path of Keystone XL pipeline

Sep 20, 2023 | 6:44 pm ET
By Paul Hammel
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Activists plan final harvest of sacred Ponca corn, planted in path of Keystone XL pipeline
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Ten years after planting traditional Ponca corn in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline near Neligh, activists plan their last harvest. (Courtesy of Mary Anne Andrei)

LINCOLN — Opponents of the now-abandoned Keystone XL pipeline project will gather Saturday for a final harvest of a field of Ponca corn that was planted in the pipeline’s proposed path near Neligh.

The event marks the 10th and final year for the harvest event on the farm of Art and Helen Tanderup, who hosted a fund-raising concert against the pipeline in 2014 that featured Neil Young and Willie Nelson.

The Tanderups donated 1.6 acres of their farm to the Ponca Tribe, whose home was Nebraska until their forced removal in 1877 to a reservation in Oklahoma on a “Trail of Tears” that ran through the Neligh area.

Helped resist pipeline

Tanderup said the protest field of Ponca corn helped block the Keystone XL.

Ponca corn
Neligh farmer Helen Tanderup holds an ear of sacred Ponca red corn before a planting on their farm near Neligh. (Courtesy of Bold Nebraska)

Jane Kleeb, the founder of the leading anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska, said the cornfield helped form “an unlikely alliance that won an unlikely battle against a pipeline that was set out to pollute the land and water.”

In 2021, President Joe Biden rescinded the federal permit for the pipeline to enter the U.S. from Canada, where it was to transport tar sands oil extracted in Alberta.

Opponents of the project maintained that the highly refined synthetic crude oil contributed to global warming and that building the pipeline would exacerbate that. Proponents of the pipeline, meanwhile, argued that it was oil from a friendly ally that would bolster supplies in the U.S.

Larger effort to preserve the corn

The Ponca corn plot in Neligh is part of an effort by Mekasi Camp of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma to bring the tribe’s corn back to its ancestral home in Nebraska, particularly the red corn, which is considered sacred.

“In the beginning of our existence, the creator gave us four sacred gifts, one of which was the sacred corn,” Camp said in a press release.

The initial red Ponca corn seeds were recovered from a Lakota family living near Craig, Nebraska, who had been raising it for several generations. Plots of Ponca gray and blue corn have also been planted near Kearney and in Oklahoma to keep the varieties alive.

“In the same way this sacred corn has endured the test of time and still stands strong for the land and the people, so shall we,” Camp said.

The Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and Nebraska growers are also involved in an effort to save that tribe’s corn varieties.