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Return the Land

Updated: 10/22/2013 @ 6:01pm

Our dilemma about our land was not at all unusual. In fact, it was probably typical. Rather, it was our solution that was new. I write this hoping that the course we chose to take may be useful to others.

My wife, Linda, and I have a farm in Dannebrog, Nebraska, that became very dear to us over the 40 years we owned it. Our children grew up on this ground, and while they cherish it, too, they have gone their own ways over the years. As Linda and I have grown old, we have begun to worry about this precious piece of earth that we’ve come to consider a real gift in our lives.

Native American option

The perfect solution for all our concerns came to us in a way that we think – and hope – might also speak to the concerns of others who are in much the same situation.

Since the 1950s, I have had associations with Native Americans. As I have grown older, those relationships have grown ever closer and more meaningful. I acquired friends among the Lakota, Omaha, Winnebago, and other Plains tribes, and 25 years ago I found myself in a complicated relationship with the Pawnee people. That association quickly grew closer as I came to know them better. I had also felt an immediate connection with the Pawnee because our land was within their historical territory. It is not at all unusual to find pottery shards or stone tools on our property.

Inspired by a moment

A small group of leaders from the Pawnee Nation were visiting us when they asked to see the river – the Loup River that borders our land. Loup is French for wolf, and it was named for the Loup, or Wolf, Pawnee. As we quickly saw and learned, its waters remain sacred to the Pawnee, even though they have been separated from it for almost a century and a half.

Most people did not know that when Danes first crossed the river in April 1871, they found 300 Pawnee camped on this precise spot. It was a profoundly moving moment for all of us there – Indian and non-Indian – when distinguished elders from the Pawnee waded into the river, fully dressed, crying, talking to the water, praying, singing, remembering.

That evening Linda and I found ourselves thinking that our new Pawnee friends were not the visitors on our land; we were, in fact, visitors on theirs. For the first time, we had found people who loved this land as much as we did.

We first considered leaving our home and land to the Pawnee in our wills. Years later, because of complicated circumstances, we simply signed the deed over to the Pawnee asking only that we be allowed to live here until we die or leave. Thus, the Pawnee came again to own 60 acres of their ancestral lands in Nebraska for the first time in 140 years.

New neighbors

In returning the land to its traditional owners, we felt that it took on a renewed and amplified power. We have never felt better about anything we have done in our lives (except, of course, for finding each other and marrying 32 years ago)!

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