Fortenberry speaks Ponca language in honoring Standing Bear
Speaking at times in the Ponca tongue, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry urged a House subcommittee last week to endorse his proposal to honor Chief Standing Bear with a designated national historic trail.
The trail would mark the route the Poncas traveled when they were forced to leave their home in Nebraska to be relocated in Oklahoma.
Fortenberry described Standing Bear as “one of America’s most important civil rights leaders,” recalling the 1879 court ruling in Omaha prompted by his arrest and trial for bringing his dead son home to be buried on his native land in the Niobrara region of Nebraska.
“I am a man,” Standing Bear testified.
“God made us the same,” Fortenberry said in recalling the testimony.
And the court subsequently ruled that an Indian is a person within the meaning of the law in what the Lincoln congressman described as “one of the most important civil rights cases in the history of our nation.”
Fortenberry’s bill authorizing the Department of the Interior to conduct a feasibility study was heard by the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands. The subcommittee chairwoman is Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, one of the first two Native women to be elected to Congress.
“The story of Chief Standing Bear is a story of strength, grace and dignity,” Fortenberry states on a website created by the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs.
Fortenberry told the House subcommittee that a statue of Chief Standing Bear soon will be installed in Statuary Hall in the nation’s Capitol as one of Nebraska’s two allotted statues honoring historic Nebraska figures.
Also enshrined in the hall will be a statue of Nebraska author Willa Cather.
Those two statues will replace the current statues of William Jennings Bryan and Sterling Morton, a change directed by the Nebraska Legislature.
A statue of Chief Standing Bear was installed along Centennial Mall near the state Capitol in Lincoln in 2017.
Visiting Standing Bear Trail