WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mike Johanns (R- Neb) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) today introduced legislation in the Senate to require the Department of the Interior to determine the feasibility of creating a Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail. The legislation is similar to a bill Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) introduced earlier this month in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Chief Standing Bear is not only an important part of Nebraska’s rich history, he is a key figure in our American civil rights story” Johanns said. “Through his love for his son, he showed the power one person can have to enact meaningful change. His story stands as a testament to the power of our nation’s justice system and cements him as one of our nation’s fighters for equality.”
“By attempting to fulfill his dying son’s last wish, Chief Standing Bear set upon a path to recognize the dignity inherent with his people, and established himself as a major figure in the American struggle for civil rights,” Fischer said. “No matter what our circumstances, the potential for an individual to affect change is tremendous. A father’s love for his son enabled a government to recognize the rights of Native Americans before the law.”
Chief Standing Bear was a leader of the Ponca tribe in Nebraska during the mid-19th century when the U.S. government relocated the Poncas to present-day Oklahoma. Approximately one-third of the Ponca nation died during the forced removal. After his son died in Indian Territory, Standing Bear returned to the Omaha area to honor his son’s desire to be buried with his ancestors in Omaha, accompanied by members of the Ponca tribe.
Soon after returning to Nebraska, Standing Bear and his followers were arrested for leaving the Oklahoma reservation without permission. Standing Bear secured legal representation and his attorneys filed suit for a writ of habeus corpus. During the trial, Standing Bear made these famous remarks:
“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 the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”
In response, Judge Elmer Scipio Dundy ruled that an Indian is a person and has the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Standing Bear and his companions were permitted to stay near the Omaha reservation, and Standing Bear was allowed to bury his son’s bones on his ancestral land.