Iowa Tribe creates national park on Nebraska-Kansas border

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska is creating the nation’s largest tribal national park on a forested bluff overlooking the Missouri River and a historic site of its people.

The 444-acre park will allow the tribe to tell the story of the Ioway people and provide a rustic getaway where people can hike, camp and bird-watch, said Lance Foster, the vice chairman of the tribe.

“We’ve been here for a thousand years now and, unlike other people who can buy and sell land and move away, we can never move away,” Foster said. “This is our land forever. And we’ll be here for another 1,000 years.”

The new Ioway Tribal National Park will overlook a historic trading village where the Ioway people bartered for buffalo hides and pipestones with other tribes during the 13th to 15th centuries. That site includes three burial mounds that date back 3,000 years, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The Nature Conservancy of Nebraska recently transferred 284 acres to the tribe, which plans to use the land and an adjacent 160 acres that the conservancy donated two years ago to establish the second such tribal national park in the country . It is located just southeast of Rulo, Nebraska, on the Nebraska-Kansas border.

Mace Hack, executive director of the Nebraska chapter of the conservancy, said his group has worked with the Iowa Tribe for years and was aware of how well it managed property.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Hack said. “We wanted to help the tribe connect even more deeply to their ancestral lands and heritage.”

Acquiring the land also fits with the tribe’s goal of restoring tribally owned lands on its reservation, which once spanned 12,000 acres on both sides of the Nebraska-Kansas border. An 1887 federal “allotment” act that subdivided the reservation to individual families resulted in the selling off of 90% of the land to local farmers.

The tribe, headquartered in White Cloud, Kansas, has now bought back about one-third of its original reservation, Foster said.