The Standing Bear Museum has been under construction for several months and is coming along well. The museum located in Ponca City will contain permanent and traveling displays of current and historical artifacts and of the natural science of Native American culture.
The museum is named for Standing Bear, a prominent 19th Century Ponca Indian chief and outspoken proponent of Native American rights. In 1876 when the Ponca were told they were to be moved to Indian Territory, they sent ten chiefs with a United States agent to look over the land and its prospects. They were to make a decision for the Ponca tribe; however, based on what they learned, the chiefs could not make a favorable report. The tribe voted not to go to Indian Territory. The government then decided to send the Ponca to Indian Territory with or without their consent. So the Ponca left on foot for Indian territory, escorted by the U.S. Army.
After arriving in Oklahoma territory, the Ponca had no time to plant a crop on their new land and were not prepared for the winter there, causing many deaths including Standing Bear's son. Standing Bear wanted to bury his son on Ponca soil and with thirty others traveled back towards their home on the Niobrara. They reached the Omaha Reservation were they were welcomed as relatives, but word of the arrival back in Nebraska soon reached the government. They were arrested on orders from the Secretary of Interior by General George Crook. Standing Bear and the others were taken to Fort Omaha and detained. Although they were ordered back to Indian Territory at once, a delay was obtained so they could rest and regain their health. During this time their story was told to the public by Thomas Tibbles of the Omaha Daily Herald.
In 1879, Standing Bear argued his case against General Crook and The United States Government in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, Nebraska; from this landmark civil rights case comes the petition's oft-quoted "an Indian is a person" statement. The judge ultimately found in favor of Standing Bear and the Ponca people. This case received the attention of the Hayes administration, and provisions were made for some of the tribe to return to the Niobrara valley.
The Standing Bear Native American Foundation was formed in 1993 to recognize Native American achievements and traditions. The original impetus for the foundation was a protest by Native Americans at the dedication of a statue titled "This Land is Mine" that depicted a rider on horseback staking his claim during the Cherokee Outlet Land Rush. The bronze is located at Centennial Plaza in front of Ponca City's Civic Center. After the protest, members of the Native American community and citizens of Ponca City formed the committee to create a memorial to honor those who have gone before. Standing Bear Park and the 22 foot bronze sculpture of Standing Bear were dedicated in 1996.
Take a look at our slideshow of the construction of the Standing Bear Museum.