Native Corn event brings Pawnee back to Nebraska

Published: Apr. 23, 2018 at 8:58 AM CDT
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Ronnie O'Brien, an instructor at Central Community College, has been working with native corn for more than a decade.

It all began when she worked at the Kearney Archway. She wanted to create a Native American program for 4th graders. Her goal was start a Pawnee program and she wanted the Pawnee to help create it.

"We are in the heart of Pawnee territory," said O'Brien.

The plan was to create a garden with native corn.

"It's a very significant part of their culture that was almost gone," said O'Brien.

So her next step was to contact Oklahoma. That's how she got to know Deb Echo-Hawk.

Deb had asked her to grow some of their seeds back in their homeland of Nebraska. O'Brien quickly agreed. But at the time, they only knew of two varieties.

O'Brien said it took seven years to gain the trust of the Pawnee so that they would send their seeds to Ronnie to plant.

The operation has since grown with gardens across the state planting native corn. She adds that all the seeds belong to the Pawnee nation and are returned to them.

14 years later and the relationship she's built with the Pawnee in Oklahoma has helped bring them home.

On Saturday, April 28, there will be a Native Corn event at Central Community College in Hastings.

The event was the brain child of one of O'Brien's classes.

Six students were taking part in an event planning course and when they had to decide what to do for their event, they turned to the passion of their instructor and decided to do a Native Corn event.

"It was a neat idea on its own," said O'Brien. "Now it has become very significant."

She said "we're in their homeland and we're inviting them [Pawnee] back."

It will be an educational event with multiple speakers honoring Nebraska's first farmers and their efforts to return their corn to their people.

Tribal members from Nebraska and Oklahoma, as well as nationally known sustainability experts in agriculture, will share their knowledge to help anyone interested.

Speakers, a Native American meal, the Pawnee Nation sacred drum and sustainability focused vendors and workshops will complete the event.

O'Brien said the Pawnee Nation will send 45 people to attend.

"I believe there will be some healing to come back to Nebraska and celebrate that their corn is coming back," said O'Brien.

Student Lakya Wagner said she is excited to see how the Pawnee will react when they get here.

"It's really amazing to see how much they love Nebraska," she adds.

Native Corn, a Native American and Sustainability zero-waste event, will be held on Central Community College's Hastings Campus in the Dawson Gym.

The event is free and open to the public. It begins at 9 a.m.