Kevin Abourezk: Winnebago Tribe slowly reclaiming land base

"For more than 100 years, white farmers planted corn here, and corn stubble juts today from a tract northwest of Winnebago that the tribe bought in 1997.

Tony Wood stood here recently, surveying it, trying to envision early Native farmers harvesting corn.

“It took 125 years, but we finally assimilated into farmers,” said Wood, who will oversee Ho-Chunk Inc.’s farm.

Lance Morgan, CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., said the tribe has spent nearly $13 million buying back its former lands for nearly the past 15 years. The tribe had lost nearly 80 percent of its original 108,000-acre reservation through allotments and land sales but has regained about 10 percent of those original holdings through purchases.

“The government gave all our land away with the Homestead Act, and now, we have to buy it all back,” he said. “The irony is self-evident and annoying to us.”

The tribe and individual tribal members own more than 28,000 acres on the northeast Nebraska reservation. All of that land is leased to non-Native farmers.

The tribe recently passed an ordinance giving Ho-Chunk Inc. the right to match any lease offer to use those tribal lands. The policy allows the corporation to match the highest bid for land advertised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Winnebago Tribe. The lands have become increasingly lucrative as a result of the recent boom in crop prices."

Get the Story:
Kevin Abourezk: Tribe reclaiming land lost after the Homestead Act (The Lincoln Journal Star 5/21)

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