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Tribe regains reservation land from Nebraska conservancy

Missouri River

RULO, Neb. (AP) — A Native American tribe has regained ownership of river bluffs, hardwood forest and tall grass prairie along the Missouri River through an agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Nebraska.

The conservancy recently transferred 160 acres of Richardson County bluff land to the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The tribe and the conservancy agreed to a conservation easement, which prevents development incompatible with the land's ecological value.

The site is a rare habitat where mature hardwood forest coexists with tall grass prairie, said Mace Hack, the conservancy's state director. The overlapping ecosystems magnify the variety of plants and animals living on the land, he said.

The conservancy bought the land in 1994 in order to expand its Rulo Bluffs Preserve and protect the hardwood forest and prairie habitats.

"This return of a part of our reservation, in a natural condition much as our ancestors would recognize it and which we will continue to restore, is helping us to heal the land and as a tribe," said Alan Kelley, tribal vice chairman.

The land is also sacred ground to the tribe, said Lance Foster, the tribe's historic preservation officer.

"To be somewhere where it's quiet, that's one of the things I enjoy about being here ... and the fact that our ancestors are here," he said. "The spirits of our ancestors are here. In our private moments we hear them sometimes. We communicate with them."

The land return is part of a larger attempt by the tribe to purchase back more reservation lands with its casino revenue. About 30 percent of the reservation is currently owned by tribal members.

"It's a slow process," Kelley said.

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