Several speakers and performers celebrated the legacy of Chief Standing Bear during an unveiling ceremony of a sculpture of the Ponca tribe chief on Sunday, Oct. 15 on the Centennial Mall.
The event, which was part of Nebraska's sesquicentennial celebration, brought members of the community, state politicians and members of several Native American tribes together to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for the unveiling.
Artist Benjamin Victor created the sculpture. Victor is a professor of practice at Boise State University, and is also the only living artist to have two works in the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.
Along with the unveiling, members of the Winnebago Tribe performed a ceremonial dance and song. Several speakers then discussed the importance and relevancy of the sculpture, which was apart of the festivities for Nebraska’s sesquicentennial.
“Chief Standing Bear’s story is arguably the most compelling,” Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said. “He learned his way into the intellectual and emotional heart of the post-Civil War republic, and he attached himself to the underlying ideas of our founding fathers that all men are created equal.”
Born near the Niobrara River, Standing Bear was a part of the Ponca Tribe. The tribe was forced to leave their home in 1877 by a federal treaty for Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma, according to the official Chief Standing Bear website.
Because of the hardships that occurred during the journey, many members of the Ponca Tribe died, including Standing Bear’s son. Determined to bury his son in his homeland, Standing Bear and 30 other Ponca members made the journey back to Nebraska.
The group was apprehended on an Omaha reservation, where Standing Bear filed for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. This court case was the first time a Native American was recognized as a person in federal court.
Judi Gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, came up with the idea of having a Standing Bear monument.
“What began as a private act of a father honoring his son’s wish to return home, culminated in a courtroom with a public plea before a federal judge, and a monumental change in United States law regarding the nation’s first people,” she said. “So many acts of courage both known and unknown are part of this story.”
After the speakers, descendants of Standing Bear’s family and other Ponca tribal members then pulled away a curtain to reveal the 10-foot bronze statue.
Winnebago Tribe performance group New Breed ended the event with by singing an honor song to celebrate the unveiling.
“Certainly no act of courage was greater than that of the man entering the courtroom as a plaintiff where his very right to be considered a person was held in the balance,” Gaiashkibos said. “Standing Bear’s plea to the U.S. court and all those present that day resonates today for all humanity.”