Standing Bear: A journey of purpose

A new high school in Lincoln, Nebraska will be named Standing Bear High school. Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, explains this history. Meghan Fate Sullivan. a freelancer journalist for ICT. has more on ANCSA.
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A new school in Lincoln, Nebraska will be named Standing Bear High School. The board of education voted unanimously for the name. It’s set to open in 2023.

Standing Bear was a leader of the Ponca Tribe. He won the landmark case, Standing Bear v. Crook in 1879. It recognized that an Indian is a "person" under the law and entitled to rights and protection.

Standing Bear’s speech in the courtroom was a defining moment. He said, quote: "That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a Man."

Joining us to share the story of Standing Bear is Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which set up a unique way the federal government would deal with Alaska Natives and land management.

ANCSA established 13 for-profit Alaska Native regional corporations, and more than 200 for-profit village corporations.

More than 44 million acres of land was divided between the corporations, in exchange for the extinguishment of Indigenous land claims.

Alaska Natives and their descendants are the shareholders for these corporations, leading to a new type of Federal policy tied to corporate ownership rather than lands in trust.

Today, the corporations provide social services, cultural programs, jobs, and scholarships for the Alaska Native people they serve.

But as a piece of legislation that is open to amendments, the Alaska Native corporate system is still evolving.

As the 50th Anniversary for this landmark legislation approaches, Indian Country Today will be examining some of the critical issues and debates surrounding ANCSA.

Joining us today is ICT journalist Meghan Sullivan, who is overseeing our coverage of ANCSA. 

A slice of our Indigenous world 

  • Tribes are leading the way in COVID-19 vaccines with many nearly fully vaccinated. 
  • Native American college students across the country are pushing their schools to do more to atone for past wrongs.
  • It’s a court victory for the Colville Tribes in a fuel tax lawsuit.
  • Violence in Brazil is increasing as continued friction between illegal gold miners and tribal members threatens to spiral out of control.
  • .Treaties that tribes signed centuries ago with the U.S. government are today protecting more than the tribes.

Some quotes from today's show 

Larry Wright Jr.

“And so our people were forcibly removed to Oklahoma and we lost many people along the way, our own Trail of Tears, and Standing Bear lost a daughter along the way. And once they got to Oklahoma, his son was dying and one of his sons dying wishes to Standing Bear was that he wanted to be buried back in the homeland. His son subsequently died. Many others were dying of disease and elements and many things and Standing Bear and about 30 followers at that time decided that they would rather try to get home and were willing to die, to come home to honor his son’s request.”

“To honor his son's requests and the promises that he made to his son, but also they knew they believed that if they stayed in Oklahoma, they too could die. And so they just would rather take the chance to come home. They got as far as our relatives, the Omaha tribe, and when they saw the condition, our people were in and making it that whole journey without being caught, they kept them there to attract, to feed them, and rest up. But about that time, the U.S. military caught up with Standing Bear with the orders that they'd be turned around and marched back to Oklahoma right away and subsequently they were detained down in Fort Omaha at the time. And that's where this trial took place through which nobody knew at the time, but through the generosity of a General Crook at the time. And the irony was that he was known as one of the great Indian fighters at the time. But he saw the condition of our people, and what they've gone through. And it was through his efforts behind the scenes to bring this to a trial that in fact, he recommended that Standing Bear sue him to prevent their removal and others that worked on our behalf.”

Meghan Sullivan 

“So the first story which will be live on Monday gives an overview of both the history of ANCSA and the legal details. And we wanted this to be a refresher for our Alaskan audience, as well as an introduction to the concept, to our Lower 48 audience for people who might not be as familiar with the ANCSA set and the Alaska Native corporations. So we really want to do a comprehensive piece that tells the whole story of ANCSA, and really gets into kind of the history and some of our leaders who helped push forward this legislation, as well as, you know, what's actually in the app. What are the details and how does this affect people today.”

“So in Alaska, you kind of have a complex, layered system, many different organizations and entities that Alaska Native people are involved with. So you can be enrolled in your tribe. You can be a shareholder of your regional corporation and you can be a shareholder of your village corporation, or you could be only one of these things. You might be a tribally enrolled, but not a shareholder. You might be a shareholder, but not tribally enrolled and some people aren't shareholders or enrolled at all some Alaska native people. And so the identity story is going to be kind of investigating the different ways”. 

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Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

Meghan Fate Sullivan, Koyukon Athabascan, is a former Stanford Rebele Fellow turned freelance journalist for Indian Country Today. She grew up in Alaska, and is currently reporting on her home state from our Anchorage Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @mfatesully

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