A statue of Chief Standing Bear, a leader of the Ponca Tribe, in Ponca City, Oklahoma. The United States forced the tribe to leave its homelands in present-day Nebraska to present-day Oklahoma. Standing Bear's return to Nebraska led to a historic court decision in 1879 which recognized him as a "person" under federal law. Photo: Matt Howry

Native Sun News Today: Looking back at the tribes featured in 'Century of Dishonor' book

A century of dishonor

Revisiting the landmark book by Helen Hunt Jackson
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

Even back in 1881, and it is still true to this day, the best friend the tribes of North America ever had was a White person of impassioned conscience. Helen Hunt Jackson was such a person, and wrote an historic book, appealing to the conscience of the nation, on behalf of the wronged aboriginal peoples of this country, called "A Century of Dishonor.”

At a time when women could not even vote, and the nation was in the throes of a Manifest Destiny feeding frenzy, that would not abate until all tribal lands were forcibly occupied, and Indians either penned up or wiped out to a man, Jackson distributed her book to every member of Congress, at her own expense. She was so profoundly appalled by the mistreatment of the Indian by the federal government, she wrote, “I shall be found with ‘Indians’ engraved upon my brain when I am dead. —A fire has been kindled within me which will never go out.”

Jackson wrote seven chapters, the warts-and-all reality of how seven tribes were treated by the United States, in violation of treaty obligations, in violation of the letter of United States law, not Indian law. Many an expert on Indian law and history has determined that, in its dealings with the tribes of North America, over the course of two centuries, the United States has reprehensibly pursued a comprehensive policy of legalized theft and immoral chicanery.

In 1879, Jackson attended a meeting and heard the eloquent Standing Bear of the Ponca speak. He spoke of how his people had been forcibly removed from their ancestral homeland, because the United States had mistakenly included these lands in the Great Sioux Reservation. For this reason, the Ponca had to be relocated, forthwith.

Over the next weeks, the NSNT will look at the specific history and ultimate fate of each of these six tribes, starting with Standing Bear and the Ponca. It is always good to revisit the tenor of those turbulent times, to hear the words of those who suffered and died, and learn the exact chain of events, and see past federal court rulings, and acknowledge the humanity of peoples shattered by policies no civilized country should have ever perpetrated on any group of people, for any reason.

James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com

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