In ‘historic’ move, Nebraska farmers return land to the Ponca tribe to block Keystone XL

"TransCanada will have to negotiate with a new landowner, one that has special legal status as a tribe."


In what could be a major blow to the construction of Keystone XL, a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

Art and Helen Tanderup signed over the 1.6 acre plot of land, which falls on the Ponca “Trail of Tears” to the Ponca at a deed-signing ceremony last week.

The couple stated, “The Ponca and people of this community continue to build strong relationships as they work in collaborative efforts. It is only fitting that out of the tragedy of the Ponca Trail of Tears that a small piece of this historic trail be transferred to them.”

The plot of land also happens to be where TransCanada, the corporation behind the Keystone XL, plans to build a portion of the controversial pipeline. This means that “TransCanada will have to negotiate with a new landowner, one that has special legal status as a tribe.”

The transfer is being celebrated by the Tanderups, the Ponca, and environmentalists across the nation.

As Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, told the Omaha World-Herald, “We want to protect this land. We don’t want to see a pipeline go through.”

“While TransCanada is trampling on Indigenous rights to fatten their bottom line, Native leaders are resisting by building renewable energy solutions like solar panels in the path of the pipeline,” said executive director May Boeve.

She continued, “Repatriating this land to the Ponca Tribe raises new challenges for the Keystone XL pipeline and respects the leadership of Native nations in the fight against the fossil fuel industry. Tribal sovereignty is central to the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground and build a more just society for all.”

The Tanderups have worked with the Ponca tribe for years to grow the tribe’s sacred corn on the portion of land that was returned. During the ceremony, in which the deed was signed between the Tanderups and Larry Wright, Jr., both the farmers and the tribe celebrated a fifth planting of corn with Ponca singers and grass dancers.


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Ruth Milka started as an intern for NationofChange in 2015. Known for her thoughtful and thorough approach, Ruth is committed to shedding light on the intersection of environmental issues and their impact on human communities. Her reporting consistently highlights the urgency of environmental challenges while emphasizing the human stories at the heart of these issues. Ruth’s work is driven by a passion for truth and a dedication to informing the public about critical global matters concerning the environment and human rights.