An initiative by the Nebraska 150 Celebration to provide a copy of “Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve for every fifth grader in the state. The book will be accompanied by a specially developed curriculum for teachers.

Nebraska’s Educational Service Units (ESUs) have graciously agreed to assist with distribution of the books to public and private schools throughout that state. The materials will be delivered to ESUs statewide in July 2017. Additional information will be provided to educators about how to retrieve their books from their local ESU in the coming months.

Book Synopsis

Cover photo for Standing Bear of the Ponca by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

Imagine having to argue in court that you are a person. Yet this is just what Standing Bear, of the Ponca Indian tribe, did in Omaha in 1879. And because of this trial, the law finally said that an Indian was indeed a person, with rights just like any other American.

Standing Bear of the Ponca tells the story of this historic leader, from his childhood education in the ways and traditions of his people to his trials and triumphs as chief of the Bear Clan of the Ponca tribe. Most harrowing is the winter trek on which Standing Bear led his displaced people, starving and sick with malaria, back to their homeland—only to be arrested by the U.S. government, which set the stage for his famous trial. Standing Bear’s story is also the story of a changing America, when the Ponca, like so many Indian tribes, felt the pressure of pioneers looking to settle the West. Standing Bear died in 1908, but his legacy and influence continue even up to the present.

Standing Bear’s Story

Standing Bear was a Ponca chief who became a key figure as the first Native American to fight for civil rights. He successfully argued in an 1879 U.S. District Court case in Omaha that Native Americans were “persons within the meaning of the law.”

Chief Standing Bear was born on the banks of the Niobrara River in Nebraska where the Ponca people peaceably lived. In 1877, by Federal Treaty, Chief Standing Bear and the Ponca Tribe were forcibly removed from their homeland in Nebraska to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. The Ponca people walked more than 500 miles from Nebraska to Oklahoma, enduring the hardships of travel, illness, and the conditions of Indian Territory.

Sadly, many members of the Tribe perished during the first year, including Chief Standing Bear’s son, Bear Shield. His dying wish to his father was to be buried in his homeland along the Niobrara River. Determined to grant his son his dying wish, Chief Standing Bear led 30 members of his Tribe, including women and children, on the long 500 mile walk back to Nebraska, only to be arrested just short of their destination and imprisoned at Fort Omaha.

In May 1879, with the help of local attorneys, Chief Standing Bear sued the Federal government seeking his freedom and right to return to his homeland. In his courtroom speech to the judge, Chief Standing Bear pleaded: “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be of the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”

Chief Standing Bear was victorious and for the first time the Court found that Indians are persons within the meaning of the law.

– Courtesy of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs

Photo of Standing Bear of the Ponca
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