Indianz.Com Video: H.R.810 – Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail
Ponca Tribe supports naming of high school for Chief Standing Bear
Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The descendant of a Native chief who walked nearly 550 miles from Oklahoma to his homelands in Nebraska in 1879 to bury his son said Tuesday his family would be honored if a new high school bore his ancestor’s name.

Steve Laravie Jr. is a descendant of Ponca Chief Standing Bear, who won his freedom after a landmark 1879 legal battle in which a federal judge ruled Native people were persons under the law and deserving of the same civil rights and freedoms as others.

“The things that he stood for and lived for was family … family, community, but he also spoke for the innocence of life,” Laravie said. “He was a compassionate man.”

A 10-foot tall, bronze statue of Ponca Chief Standing Bear was erected October 15, 2017, along a plaza leading to the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. In 1879, Standing Bear convinced a federal judge to allow him to return to his homelands in northeast Nebraska, a decision that is today considered an important civil rights victory for Native Americans. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

A committee charged with recommending the name of a new high school in the state’s capital has offered the name Standing Bear High School in Lincoln to the city’s board of education. The decision, which must still be approved by the board of education, marked a departure from the city’s typical practice of naming high schools after directions.

Another high school in Lincoln currently under construction has been named Lincoln Northwest.

Laravie spoke Tuesday before the board and sang a song named for Standing Bear.

  • That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also 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.

  • — Ponca Chief Standing Bear

Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, also spoke Tuesday. He said he was hopeful naming a high school after Standing Bear would help undo harmful stereotypes about Native people and the pain caused by inappropriate Native mascots.

“This was a real opportunity if this name was chosen to lead the country and show how this can be done in a good way that’s representative and respectful of Indigenous people in this state,” he said.

Naming a high school after Standing Bear would continue efforts to memorialize the chief. Those efforts have included the installation of a 9-foot tall sculpture in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall in September 2019, which was a smaller version of a statue placed in downtown Lincoln in 2017.

And recently, the U.S. House of Representative again considered legislation designating the Chief Standing Bear Trail as a national historic trail. The chamber passed H.R.810 on May 12.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska), the bill’s sponsor, spoke during the 2019 dedication of Standing Bear’s statue in Washington, D.C.

“Chief Standing Bear didn’t seek to be a civil rights leader,” he said. “He simply wanted to bury his dead son on their ancestral homeland. And in doing so, he called forth the essence of human dignity and he changed the course of history in that transcendent moment when he raised his hand and said, ‘I am a man. God made us both.’”

The U.S. Senate has yet to take up the measure. The bill authorizes the Department of the Interior, which is led by Secretary Deb Haaland, to study the feasibility of creating the Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail.

The trail would run about 550 miles, tracing Standing Bear’s journey from Nebraska to Oklahoma, and back.

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