The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska could reclaim land after a 50+ year fight
As senators from Iowa and Nebraska throw support behind federal legislation that would return land in northwest Iowa to the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, a spokesperson remembers the tribe's former council chair who began the push.
In 1970, the U.S. government took 1,600 acres away from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska through eminent domain. The plan was to use the ground along the Missouri River in Woodbury and Monona counties for a recreation area.
But it was never built.
Now, four Republican senators from Iowa and Nebraska — including Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst — are supporting federal legislation that would return land in northwest Iowa to the tribe.
"We always take care of our Mother Earth.”Garan Coons, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska
“Land is very important to us. I know that you know, we're stewards of the land. We always take care of our Mother Earth,” said Garan Coons, communications officer for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.
Tribal officials are in Washington, D.C. this week, pushing for passage of the legislation.
“They're just knocking on doors out there and trying to kind of tell him how important this is for the whole Tribal Nation and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska,” Coons said.
Coons credits the former chairman of the Winnebago Tribal Council, Louis LaRose, for beginning the push to get the land back. LaRose died last week at the age of 81.
Coons says LaRose fought the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after it condemned the land.
“He took it to the courts in the 1970s and ended up winning that legal battle,” Coons said.
However, an act of Congress was needed to get the land back — a process that has taken decades. In February, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, and recently, Sen. Deb Fisher of Nebraska introduced the Winnebago Land Transfer Act in the U.S. Senate.
“When Chairman Kitcheyan got word that senators were going to release a news release about the 1,600 acres, she immediately called LaRose," Coon said. "He was in his final days with us here on Earth."
Coons says other members of Congress over the years unsuccessfully tried to intervene, including Iowa's former 4th District Rep. Steve King and Nebraska's former 1st District Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, but he is more optimistic this time around.
Coons says so far, there are no plans to develop the land, which is currently overseen by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Coons says the tribe would be open to allowing hunting on the property that includes a substantial amount of woodland.