KEARNEY — Smoke of burning cedar needles floated across a small patch of overturned sod Tuesday near the Great Platte River Road Archway as Ed and Oliver Littlecook of Ponca, Okla., recited a tribal blessing.
Soon, several hundred kernels of rare Ponka grey corn will be placed in the soil in hopes of reviving the variety that is precious to the Ponca tribes, which now occupy parts of Oklahoma and Nebraska.
“From what I’ve gathered, the Poncas had five varieties of corn. They in-cluded two gray, two red and one sweet corn variety,” said Amos Hinton, an agronomist for the Southern Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma.
Poncas will be the featured tribe at the archway’s June 15-16 Dancers of the Plains powwow.
Hinton and Tom Hoegemeyer, a corn geneticist from Hooper, examined sev-eral ears of the grey corn that Hoegemeyer brought with him to the archway Tuesday. Ronnie O’Brien, education director at the archway, also brought about 100 kernels she had stored about five years earlier.
O’Brien has been working with Native Americans to revive their tribes’ in-digenous corn. The plant is precious to the tribes because it fed their ancestors and is a part of many religious rites.
Hinton said Great Plains tribes developed expertise in growing corn, but occa-sionally crops failed, so other tribes gave away their corn. Many varieties were grown, but tribes favored corn that identified their various tribes.
“Back in the period we’re talking about, there were a lot of exchanges among the Plains tribes,” said Oliver Littlecook.
O’Brien has grown native varieties for other tribes. Because the seed is dated, the growing attempts have had mixed success. She wouldn’t speculate how well the grey corn might grow near the archway.
Seed also will be planted in Lincoln and in Ponca City.