Charles Trimble: Confessions of wannabe Roger Welsch
A new book will come out over the coming months with an interim title “Confessions of a Wannabe.” Its author is Roger Welsch of Dannebrog, Nebraska. The town is predominantly a Danish settlement, and the main drag is Roger Welsch Boulevard. Appropriately, the town also boasts a Liar’s Hall of Fame, founded by Welsch, of course.

Roger’s wife is Linda, a beautiful and talented young Czech woman and, as far as I am concerned, one of Nebraska’s finest artists.

I first met Roger while I served on the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs in the early 1990s. At that time, the Nebraska State Historical Society was engaged in an ugly fight against the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma over the return of skeletal remains and burial goods in the Society’s possession. The Indian Commission took up the fight when NSHS refused to even meet with the tribe’s representatives over the repatriation, instead waging a campaign debasing the culture of the Pawnees to portray them as savage and unfit curators of historical objects.

The lone member of the NSHS Board of Trustees who sided with the tribe was Roger Welsch, and he finally resigned in protest – or as he might say “in disgust,” at their refusal to deal honorably with the Tribe’s representatives. The Tribe was ultimately successful in their legal and political fight, and with much public opinion in Nebraska on their side. With the help of the Native American Rights Fund, their victory set the stage for the larger movement that resulted in the enactment of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Last year I wrote about attending the reburial of some of the Pawnee skeletal remains and funerary objects that were repatriated to them. I told of feeling a sense of joy, gratitude and pride over a certain element of the ceremony – the fact that the 60-plus acres made sacred by the remains of their ancestors was given to the Pawnee Tribe by Roger and his wife, Linda. This acreage and modest farmstead where they live was the Welsch’s entire estate, given to the Pawnee with the only provision being that he and Linda be permitted to live out their lives there.

The acreage is part of the territory of the Pawnee Nation before they were removed to Oklahoma in the late 1800s. It is the first time in 135 years that the Pawnee are back in their ancestral homelands. They now have a place to restore themselves on their own lands and among their ancestors. Tribal visitors come to bathe in the waters of the Loup River and to have ceremonials as their forbears did.

Roger feels there is destiny in his giving. “The return of the land was something we felt we had no choice about. It was simply the thing to do. It would have been wrong and painful not to. There was relief in getting the task taken care of and frankly, once it was done, I could see with amazing clarity that it was what my life is for. Everything in my life has pointed to the return of this land to the Pawnee and the return of the Pawnee to this land.”

“Nothing in my 73 years has been more significant...nothing.” He says, “The land was always theirs and all Linda and I did was recognize that reality.”

And the people of Nebraska have been most gracious in welcoming the Tribe back home. Last July the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, along with tribes and regional merchants, hosted a Welcome Home Pow Wow at the Platte River Archway Monument in Kearney, Nebraska, which attracted hundreds of people. In the town of Dannebrog, a hall was donated to the Tribe for any purpose they may wish to use it. Recently, a man donated a beautiful country house and adjacent land to the Tribe.

The Pawnee Tribe is officially recognized once again as a Nebraska tribe, and holds a seat on the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs. The Tribe asked Roger to represent them on the Commission, and he is the first and only self-described Wannabe ever to serve in such position.

Roger’s reaction to the appointment: “When the Pawnee Business Council and Nasharo (Chiefs Council) designated me to represent them on the Commission, and when Judi (gaiashkibos) noted that a representative would have to be Pawnee, they said ‘Roger is Pawnee,’ it was one of the most stunning and unexpected moments in my life,” he said. “I have never felt a heavier burden of responsibility and honor. In this, I encountered a reality I would have never dreamed up in my craziest moments...and you know how crazy my moments can be!”

Roger Welsch, some might recall, appeared regularly in his “Postcards from Nebraska” segment of CBS’s Sunday Morning show with the late Charles Kuralt. He is a noted folklorist, an establishment in Nebraska, and noted beyond its border for his many books and magazine features. He is a noted humorist much in demand as a speaker in Nebraska, and his humor is often a sharp weapon that he uses against bigotry.

In 2005, at the feast and give-away marking the end of the year of mourning of the death of my sister, Shirley Plume, I brought Roger into our family as my brother, along with Louie LaRose of the Winnebago, and Nancy Gillis of the Cherokee. In the Hunkapi (making of relatives) ceremony that day, I said this of Roger: “In Lakota culture as in many Native American societies, the clown is an important member of the clan or band. He brings happiness, and sometimes his humor brings ridicule on anyone who tries to seize power and bully the people.

“The Heyoka is the Lakota clown, a holy man of sorts. The holy man Black Elk was a Heyoka. Because Roger Welsch uses his humor to give joy and laughter, but also uses it as a weapon in defense of the Indian people and their tribes, and all oppressed people, I give him the name, Heyoka ta Pejuta, Clown Medicine.”

About his soon-to-be-published book Confessions of a Wannabe, he said, “what very few non-Indians realize is that adoption and acceptance doesn't just add a name to one's life, or constitute a nice honor but actually transmutes one from one sort of person to another. It is not just a symbol but a real thing...a change from this person to that. It may not be possible to imagine that. Souls are rarely so jarred.

That is Roger Welsch, Heyoka ta Pejuta – Clown Medicine, whose his medicine is powerful, indeed, and his heart is big.

Charles “Chuck” Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-78. He may be reached at His website is

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