Nebraska to return last Ponca remains to tribe for reburial

LINCOLN-The last ancestral Ponca remains held by the Nebraska State Historical Society will be reburied next week on a grassy, hilltop cemetery overlooking the tribal bison herd near Niobrara.

The skeletal remains of 10 individuals and about 300 objects originally buried with the Indians date to the 1700s and 1800s. All were inadvertently discovered — most of them during road and railroad bridge construction projects in Butler, Knox and Platte Counties — since the 1960s.

The transfer to the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska is the latest of many instances in which the state has returned thousands of American Indian remains to tribes under federal and state laws in recent decades.

Two tribal representatives bundled the remains and funerary objects — mostly European-made glass trade beads and such things as tools and projectile points — into blankets this week at the historical society’s archaeology office in Lincoln.

Dwight Howe, the tribe’s cultural affairs director, said it will be an honor to repatriate the remains of his Ponca ancestors and give them a proper reburial Thursday in the Ponca homeland along the lower Niobrara River in northeast Nebraska.

“We are humbled to be able to do that,” he said. “Before Nebraska was a territory, before there was a Louisiana Purchase, the Poncas were here. We lived here. We gathered. We hunted. We fought. We died … (and) we buried them.”