Lincoln ceremony seen as ‘significant step’ in improving relations between city and Indigenous people

By: - September 12, 2022 4:00 am
Wilderness Park protest

A protest camp was erected in May to object to a housing development approved near Lincoln’s Wilderness Park. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

(Editor’s note — this story has been updated to reflect that the Center for Great Plains Studies organized this event)

LINCOLN — A special ceremony has been scheduled Sept. 21 that includes Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird  to welcome back members of the original inhabitants of the Lincoln area.

The event is being organized by the Center for Great Plains Studies. It, and a proclamation of Sept. 21 as “Otoe-Missouria Day,” are being hailed as a major step in fostering awareness about the Indigenous peoples who lived in present-day Lincoln and Lancaster County, and in “promoting reconciliation” between the city and the Otoe-Missouria nation.

“This is a significant step in moving our city and the University of Nebraska into a new, respectful relationship with one of the Indigenous nations that were forced to leave their homelands,” said Kevin Abourezk, co-director of the Reconciliation Rising Project and one of the organizers from Lincoln.

Protest over housing development

The relationship between the city and Native peoples took a hit recently over the Lincoln City Council’s approval of a housing development near Wilderness Park, where sweat lodge ceremonies are held on private land nearby.

A protest camp was erected near the proposed “Wilderness Crossing” development, with Native Americans demanding “meaningful engagement” before such developments proceed on such property.

Native groups are now mounting an appeal, hoping to overturn zoning changes that will allow the development. The owner of the “Fish Farm,” where the sweat lodge is located, has also taken legal action to block the development.

Prior to the arrival of settlers, the Otoes and their cousins, the Missourias, resided in eastern Nebraska and in the Lincoln area.

The Otoes, by 1714, had established a village on Salt Creek, and in 1798, the Missourias joined them there.

The Otoe-Missouria Nation signed two treaties with the U.S. government in 1833 and 1854 that ceded their lands. The Otoe-Missouria moved to the Big Blue reservation near Beatrice, but Congress sold that land and removed them to Indian Territory in 1880 and 1881.

‘Full circle moment’

One of the event organizers, Christina Faw Faw of the Otoe-Missouria Nation, said it will be the first time many tribal members will have visited “this place we called home.”

“I feel that this is a full circle moment, not just for our tribe as a whole, but for many of us as individuals,” Faw Faw said in a press release.

The welcome back ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 21 at the Center for Great Plains Studies, 1155 Q St. 

The ceremony is open to the public and will be live-streamed at  

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.