The Ponca Chiefs by Thomas Henry Tibbles
Standing Bear and his family.

Native History: Court Rules an Indian Is a Man With Rights

Christina Rose
5/12/14

This Date in Native History: On May 12, 1879, 135 years ago, Ma-Chu-nah Zah or Chief Standing Bear was declared a man in the federal courts of the United States. In the first American Indian civil rights case, Indians were acknowledged to possess all human rights.

By 1876, the Ponca tribe had a long history of living peacefully with whites and Standing Bear had received many letters from government officials that testified to that fact.

Ironically, one of those letters was written by the same Indian Commissioner that later testified in court that Standing Bear was a nuisance, mischievous, and impossible to please. However, when Standing Bear told the story of what happened to his family, the judge said the case could have been won on sympathy alone.

So, what happened?

The Ponca had been living and farming on 96,000 acres of their ancestor’s land when the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty gave away their land to the tribes in the Dakota Territory. This was done without consulting the Ponca, who knew nothing about the loss of their land until they were told to move, according to the book The Ponca Chiefs by Thomas Henry Tibbles, editor of the Omaha Daily Herald.

Tibbles's book details the hardships the Poncas endured, and describes how white men showed up at the Ponca Agency and insisted the Ponca go and see how much better it was in Indian Territory, 10 men went and found nothing but rocky land and sickness. The agents in Indian Territory refused to help them return home, so they made their way barefoot, on a 50-day trek, without food or a place to sleep. When they returned, the white men were still there, without any credentials, harassing them to relocate and give up their land.

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
How ironic to find this article in today's paper here & I just happen to have a book about this VERY man at my desk! ......................................................................................................................... Chief Standing Bear & his trials & tribulations that he & his people endured at this awful time in history for Native American Indian people. My book is called, " I Am A Man" by author Joe Starita. ......................................................................................................................... This great man among native peoples is a inspiration to all of us even today. Chief Standing Bear faced so many hardships & yet triumphed in the end against all adversity that came against him. ......................................................................................................................... This man is a roll model to me as well. When times have come to me in my life & I feel or felt like giving up, I always go back to this man & others of our many peoples & remember at all they faced in their lives as well. ......................................................................................................................... Determination, stamina & inner strength are what our ancestors had that causes us to STILL be a people to this day. We are striving, growing as a whole & showing the Creator loves us even when we wonder why He is remaining silent at times to our pleas for help. ......................................................................................................................... I find many of these great native leaders had certain traits in common: Strength in adversity, determination, daily prayer, a belief in the Creator, putting the good of the People above their own needs, being visionaries, standing up for their own rights & their peoples rights against all odds. ......................................................................................................................... Many could learn much from the leaders of the ancestors & our ancestors as a whole, applying those attributes to our own lives this very day. Thank you, ICTMN team for this inspiring tribute to one of the great ones among our many People.

editors's picture
editors
Submitted by editors on
@ GaryL: The story has been updated with the link: http://www.nebraskastudies.org/0600/stories/0601_0108_01.html

Steve Hampton's picture
Steve Hampton
Submitted by Steve Hampton on
I've posted a large excerpt from the judge's ruling at http://memoriesofthepeople.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/on-this-date-may-12-1879-nebraska/

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
As I've said before: "One nation, under Bob, easily divisible, with liberty and justice for some."
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