Heritage. History. Home. These were the sentiments that resonated through the Ponca Educational Trail Grand Opening ceremony Saturday morning. The event was held at 10 am at the amphitheater at the Ponca Community Grounds southwest of Niobrara.
Ponca Transportation Planner, Jacob Olsufka, began the ceremony conveying that "the trail is a cultural experience to learn about the Ponca tribe." He explained the significance of the different parts of the trail. The bronze icons seen along the sides tell different parts of the Ponca heritage over time.
Larry Wright Sr. then said a blessing for the trail.
Next, Cultural Director, Randy Teboe, spoke about connecting today's Ponca culture with history. His hopes are that the trail will help "bring the culture and the language home." Referring to the many plants along the trail, he noted that Native Americans were the first conservationists of their time. They used the plants for medicine, as well as harvesting them for food.
Tribal Council Chairman, Larry Wright Jr., reminded all in attendance of the strong sense of home at the site of the trail. He urged everyone to "walk through our homeland and think of our relatives that were here before us." He spoke of relatives in Oklahoma who, after visiting the area, had a strong sense of being home.
Recently, 20 miles of trail was donated to the Ponca Tribe. It lies south of the current grounds. This is a reminder to not forget the past. Rather, celebrate the future.
Others from the tribe mentioned being very honored and blessed by the completion of the trail and what it represents. They were grateful for those who designed, built, and will manage this project.
Ponca Tribe member Matthew Kennedy, a landscape architect from California, designed the trail. He was also actively involved in the process of its construction and completion.
The 3/4-mile long trail is lined with limestone. Visitors will see an authentic Ponca earth lodge, plants,and possibly the buffalo herd. Markers along the way describe the history and significance of each part of the trail. They also have parts written in the original language.
View images of the trail and grand opening below.