Bill would return northwest Iowa land seized in the 1970s to Winnebago Tribe

WASHINGTON — The four U.S. senators from Iowa and Nebraska are working together on a bill that would return a tract of land that was seized from the Winnebago Tribe in the 1970s.

The land along the Missouri River and was taken through the power of eminent domain to become a recreational area, but those plans never materialized. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says the 1,600 acres, which are maintained by the Iowa DNR as a wildlife area, need to be returned — something he says should’ve been done long ago.

“There was land taken over by the state of Iowa that had, under treaty, was supposed to belong to the Winnebagos,” Grassley says. “It was on the Iowa side and Iowa owns it, and this legislation is just to give that land back to the Winnebagos.”

Grassley was scheduled to meet in his Washington D.C. office Tuesday with the chief of the Winnebago Tribe, which he’s done before on several occasions.

“I’ve been listening to this group for, I’ll bet for 10 years they’ve been coming almost annually into this office,” Grassley says, “and I suppose that we should have probably acted on this 10 years ago, and I can’t give you a reason why we haven’t. It just hasn’t got the attention that it has.”

Some five decades ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to use the land both for a recreational area and to stabilize the banks of the Missouri River, but those plans stalled and were eventually tabled. Part of the land on the Nebraska side of the Missouri was given back to the tribe, but the land on the Iowa side was not.

Grassley says this should be a relatively simple transaction to return the land to the tribe, but it takes an act of Congress to make it happen.

“Finally, I’ve been hearing from them so long, I decided that I’m going to co-sponsor this bill and move it along,” Grassley says. “I think it will be non-controversial, at least I hope so, and I think it doesn’t have any problems in the House of Representatives.”

Grassley is co-sponsoring the bill along with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst and Nebraska Senators Deb Fischer and Pete Ricketts — all Republicans.