Welcome to the latest edition of Igniting Your Dynamic Self with Wendy Bjork. As an international bestselling author, speaker and guide to others, as well as founder of heartsofwellness.com, it is my mission to help others understand where we’ve been in order to make progress forward and live our best lives!
I did it again, I forgot USPS was increasing the price of stamps AGAIN. As I placed my order online, and viewed the featured section, I saw Chief Standing Bear was being honored with his own stamp.
Here is what I discovered. In 1875, the Ponca tribe was ordered by the Secretary of the Interior to move from their Nebraska home to an Oklahoma reservation. The journey and life on the reservation were brutal, and many people died.
Several of the tribe members, including Chief Standing Bear, wanted to return to Nebraska. But when the local Indian agent heard they were going to reunite with their family and friends, he had them arrested. They were branded a “renegade” band who had left their reservation without permission. The Army was forced to arrest them and return them to Indian Territory, but General Crook sympathized with them. He asked Thomas Henry Tibbles, a newspaperman in Omaha, for help. Tibbles connected Standing Bear with two prominent Omaha attorneys who agreed to work pro bono on their behalf.
The case made its way to court, and Standing Bear gave eloquent testimony about his situation and why it was important to him to be allowed to go back to Nebraska. He said he was not a renegade, but a family man who had the right to be with his loved ones.
But the federal district attorney argued that Stand Bear was not entitled to protection under the writ of habeas corpus because the government did not consider him a person. The judges disagreed, and the decision ruled that a Native American was indeed a person under United States law.
The court’s decision was a huge victory for the Native American rights movement. It was the first time that a federal court had ruled that an Native Amerian was a human being and was thus entitled to constitutional protections. It was a major setback for assimilation policies and led to a number of other Native American cases.
After the trial, Tibbles felt it was important to spread the word about Standing Bear’s win. He and Standing Bear, along with an interpreter named Susette La Flesche Tibbles, traveled to the eastern United States on a speaking tour.
During their travels, they spoke about the importance of preserving tribal traditions and culture, and they encouraged other Native Americans to fight for their rights in similar ways. Standing Bear died in 1908, but his legacy lives on in the efforts of the current generations to preserve the Ponca’s history and heritage.
Nebraska honors the heroic actions of Standing Bear by naming parks, schools and natural landmarks in his name. One of the most popular of these is Ponca State Park in northern Nebraska, which was established to honor the bravery shown by the tribe when they were forced to leave their homeland.
During the later years of his life, Standing Bear was instrumental in ensuring that the Black Hills in South Dakota would remain sacred to the Lakota people. He also believed that a memorial to his maternal cousin, Crazy Horse, could be carved in the sacred Paha Sapa (Black Hills) region of Nebraska. He died in 1908, and is buried at the site of his old home on the Niobrara River in northeastern Nebraska.
I am sharing because I was not aware of this important travesty in our country’s backstory. This story is shocking and paints a picture of the cruelty imposed on the Indigenous people that were here first. The more we dig, the more we uncover so as to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
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