The Story of Chief Standing Bears and His Case

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A series of court sessions to determine the Chief and his tribesmen's case took two years to the end of 1879. The Judge was asking him the same questions over and over again: Who was he? Who are his people? Where did they come from? And many others just to determine if Standing Bear is a person.

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Fortunately, Standing Bear won the case that he had no intention whatsoever involved in, and besides being allowed to bury his son, he and his tribesmen acquired American citizenship and reacquired their land.

In 1877, the government had introduced a policy to move these native people from their native land against their will. These people had no intention whatsoever to leave their native because it was who and what they were. They involuntarily decided to leave their native land, due to the pressure. But Ponca knew where they were and who they were, and Nebraska River Valley had defined them. That is why he had set off on a journey to bury his son in the ancestral land, as per the son's wishes.

In the 18th century and 19th century, many people had not been provided an opportunity to present their cases in court, so, many people were labeled enemy combat and imprisoned without trial in court. Dred Scott for instance, was denied his freedom of being a slave, but his case got overruled just because he was a black man.

If Chief Standing Bears journey for justice came that simply to have such an American style of democracy, and not pay attention to the complexity and difficulties in these ancient tribal based societies eluded for so many centuries, then it means that for the last two hundred years, America has been growing and still growing to incorporate different ethnic groups into their constitutional rights.

These stories teach us as the Chief was in court, they kept asking him, 'Who are you? Where did you come from? Who are your people? What do you people believe in? The kind of God do you worship? Who is your God? And why are you here? Standing Bear tried his best to answer these question through an interpreter. Ultimately after his case had run its course for one brief moment for the last quarter of the 19th century, Standing Bear created this mirror for a lot of people. He unwillingly forced America to look at this mirror and ask a lot of questions about itself, questions that need to ask if we are to be a high country and these issues that he metaphorically was able to hold up and ask. "Like you ask me who I am but who are you? What kind of country do you want? What kind of a country do you have now? What kind of dreams do you have to make this a better country? What is your definition of freedom? Who is your God? What does your God believe in? What are your values? You have been asking me all of these questions; now I want to know some things, what it mean to be an American in 1879?"


We can learn about ourselves from what these different kinds of ethnic groups have to say from these situations. If we are keen enough, we can take these lessons into the 21st century and apply them to our lives, and our children and our grandchildren can have better lives and can learn from this increasingly complex world that we live in. We can take this kind of lessons to the greater world for the sake of coming generations because the world is getting grayer and grayer and not the ordinary black and white.

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