Congressional delegations back bill that would return land to Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska

WASHINGTON (AP) — The congressional delegations from Nebraska and Iowa have thrown their support behind legislation that would return land to the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska that the federal government took decades ago but never developed.

The Army Corps of Engineers took the roughly 2.5-square-mile (6.5-square-kilometer) tract of land along the Missouri River in Iowa in 1970 through eminent domain for a recreation project, but it was never built. The tribe has been trying to get it back.

“The Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to condemn and seize land from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska was a classic case of government overreach," Republican Sen. Pete Ricketts, of Nebraska, said in a statement last week. "My colleagues in the Nebraska and Iowa delegations and I want to see this wrong corrected, and the land returned to the Winnebago people.”

In recent years, some tribes in the U.S., Canada and Australia have gotten their rights to ancestral lands restored with the growth of the Land Back movement, which seeks to return land to Indigenous people. Minnesota is in the process of returning to the Upper Sioux Community tribe part of a state park that holds secret burial sites of the Dakota people.

The U.S. federal government has never transferred a national park to a tribal nation, but several are co-managed with tribes, including Grand Portage National Monument in northern Minnesota, Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.

The land that would be returned to the Winnebago Tribe if the legislation passes was originally part of the reservation created for the tribe in northeastern Nebraska by a treaty in 1865. Part of the land wound up in Iowa because the Missouri River has shifted west over the years.

Another parcel of land on the Nebraska side of the river that was taken at the same time has already been returned to the tribe, but the Iowa land remains in the federal government's hands. Neither the Corps nor the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which has been managing the land, objects to returning the land to the tribe, which should help clear the path for the proposal to pass.

"We have been waiting for this wrong to be made right, and we are grateful for the leadership demonstrated by our congressional delegation,” said Winnebago Tribal Chairwoman Victoria Kitcheyan.