Nebraska New's Service covers a formal acknowledgment centuries in the making.
About 60 descendants of the Lincoln area’s original inhabitants arrived in Lincoln for a formal acknowledgment of the Otoe-Missouria Nation’s prior stewardship of the land.
It is a hard, cold fact. The city of Lincoln and its flagship university sit on land that was once not theirs. The Otoe-Missouria nation, having inhabited modern-day Lincoln since the early 18th century, ceded the land that would become Lincoln on Sept. 21, 1833, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on March 15, 1854.
Their new home became the Big Blue Reservation, a 24 square-mile section of what is now Beatrice, Nebraska, which was also sold out from under them by Congress in 1881. An 18-mile walk to Indian Country in Oklahoma followed.
“History will tell you that they willfully ceded their land. They did so at the point of a gun,” said Kevin Abourezk, Lakota member, managing editor at Indianz.com and one of the event organizers.
A delegation of about 60 Otoe-Missouria Nation members returned to their ancestral homeland on Sept. 21 to witness the beginning of a new partnership with the City of Lincoln.
For the first time ever, the city of Lincoln formally acknowledged the Otoe-Missouria nation as the first stewards of what would become Lancaster County in a proclamation from Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, an excerpt of which read– “Whereas- the City of Lincoln supports the Otoe-Missouria tribe Tribe by acknowledging that our city is on its ancestral lands and by thanking the Otoe-Missouria and other indigenous caretakers of this land who have lived and continue to live here.”
Margaret Jacobs, the director at the Center for Great Plains Studies where the event took place, said a 2019 meeting with Otoe-Missouria member Cory Deroin planted the idea to request the City of Lincoln acknowledge prior Native inhabitants. According to Jacobs, a “whirlwind” trip of several meetings occurred, one including Baird, and so the contingent asked the mayor– Would you establish an Otoe-Missouria day?
“Without skipping a beat, the mayor said yes, it was. It was not a hard thing. She didn’t say “oh, I gotta go think about that or talk about it with the committee,” Jacobs said.
Though the event was ceremonial, the crowd’s energy was upbeat and optimistic, with tinges of centuries-old wounds. There were drums and chanting, courtesy of the Lincoln Indian Center Drum Group and Otoe-Missouria Drum Group, both accompanied by dancers in traditional apparel.
Renee Sans Souci of the Omaha tribe shared an emotional poem titled “When I see them returning.”
An excerpt reads
A new energy emerged when I saw them returning, outlines of ancestors in white clouds above. Representation of life when I saw them returning. Of memories and sorrow embedded in each heart. A time now of healing. When I saw them returning, a time now of healing. To get back the land when I saw them returning.
Souci concluded her poem and speech with a fist pump and a declared “land back baby!” Which was met with hollers and applause.
“They celebrated this homecoming in a really traditional native way,” former UNL professor Joe Starita said. “That’s what makes this so impressive. The blend of native prayer, native music, and native dancing celebrates the homecoming that was also made special by the unification of native tradition with contemporary Lincoln politicians.”