A Good Time to Remember Standing Bear
As the country honors the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. this week, I think it's a good time to remember a man many consider to be our country's first civil rights activist.
He is widely known in
He is Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe.
In January 1879, Standing Bear and 30 of his followers left Indian Territory in
You see, as it had done to so many Native people, the
But Standing Bear and his followers preferred their homelands along the
Then the chief's son died.
But before Bear Shield died, he asked his father to bury him in the soil of his homeland.
Like any father, Standing Bear wanted to fulfill his son's dying wish.
So on Jan. 2, 1879, he and 30 followers left for
The trial of Standing Bear lasted two days. Shortly after it ended, the chief offered this impassioned plea to the court in an effort to prove he was a human being and entitled to the same right to freedom as every human being:
"That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall 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."
About two weeks later, federal Judge Elmer Dundy ruled that "an Indian (is) a person within the meaning of the law," entitled to the constitutional rights of
The decision allowed the Ponca to return to their lands and freed Standing Bear.
For the first time in this country's history, Native people had the right to go where they wanted, to leave the confines of the reservation and roam where they pleased.
All because a father wanted to fulfill his son's wish.