State takes another step to honor story of Ponca Chief Standing Bear

By: - July 21, 2022 4:36 pm
Standing Bear

A bust of Chief Standing Bear was unveiled last summer in front of a state office building renamed for the famed Ponca chief. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts and other state leaders took another step Thursday to honor the story of Chief Standing Bear, dedicating a building in the shadow of the State Capitol in his honor.

The Chief Standing Bear Justice Administration Building will house the offices of the state court administrator and features a bust of the famed Ponca chief, as well as a mural depicting the Poncas’ tragic, forced removal from Nebraska in 1877.

Ricketts, who had asked for legislation to allow the naming of the state-owned office building at 521 S. 14th St., called Standing Bear a “personal hero” who was at the center of “one of the greatest stories in U.S. civil rights history.”

Personal hero

“Every American should learn the story of his courage and perseverance in seeking justice,” the governor said, at a dedication ceremony Thursday.

Gov. Pete Ricketts called Chief Standing Bear a personal hero at a ceremony Thursday dedicating a state office building in honor of the chief. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

About 100 people attended, including a great-great-great-granddaughter of Standing Bear, Stacy Laravie, the historic preservation officer for the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.

Standing Bear was arrested after returning to the Poncas’ northeast Nebraska homeland to fulfill a promise to his son, who had died in the tribe’s new home in Oklahoma.

The chief challenged his detention in court in 1879, contesting the federal government’s view that he wasn’t a “person” under federal law. Ricketts, during his speech, held out his hand to demonstrate how Standing Bear had shown the judge that while his skin was of a different color, they would both feel pain, and their blood would be red, if they were cut.

‘I am a Man’

“God made me, and I am a Man,” Standing Bear told the judge, which led to legal recognition of Native Americans as persons.

Ponca drummers
Jesse Hinman, left, and Doug Esau, both of Omaha, perform a Ponca song about Chief Standing Bear at a dedication ceremony Thursday. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

The naming of the building is one of several recent steps to shine a light on the Standing Bear story, which Ricketts said he learned when he first ran for governor in 2014.

In 2017, during the sesquicentennial of the State of Nebraska, a statue of Standing Bear was dedicated near the State Capitol. In 2018, a duplicate of the statue, produced by artist Benjamin Victor, was placed in Niobrara, the headquarters of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.

In 2019, state lawmakers chose to place a statue of Standing Bear in the U.S. Capitol, as one of two representatives of the state (the other is author Willa Cather).

The new Standing Bear office building also includes a mural painted by artist Sarah Harris, who choked up when describing her work on the “Trail of Tears,” the forced relocation of the tribe. The bust of Standing Bear and the mural cost $75,000 and were paid for with private donations, officials said.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.