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

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

The route of the Ponca Tribe’s forced march from Nebraska to Oklahoma in 1877 could soon be designated a National Historic Trail, thanks in part to students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The little-known trail is important not only because it retraces yet another devastating removal of Indigenous Peoples from their homeland under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1834, but also because the ruling in a lawsuit resulting from the march was the first time the U.S. legally recognized American Indians as persons. Nebraska and Kansas have passed resolutions supporting the designation; Oklahoma will vote this month on its resolution.

The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs has been spearheading the effort, in consultation with the Ponca tribes. Executive Director Judi gaiashkibos, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, says, “The Standing Bear Trail [federal] legislation represents a major step towards national recognition of this important civil rights story. It has been the focus of the work of many people who believe as I do that Chief Standing Bear is an American hero. It is time to tell this story.”

Until the late 19th century, the Ponca Tribe’s homeland was situated between the Missouri and the Niobara rivers in Nebraska and South Dakota. The tribe had ceded most of its land to the U.S. by the mid 1860s, ending up on a reservation near the Niobara.

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie mistakenly included the Ponca land in the Great Sioux Reservation, forcing the tribe in 1875 to agree to move to “Indian Territory.”