October 08, 2011

NMAI celebrates Standing Bear

"We Are a People: The Ponca Journey" Coming to National Museum of the American IndianThe Smithsonian 's National Museum of the American Indian presents "We Are a People: The Ponca Journey," a free two-day festival featuring music, dance, play readings, a film screening and panel discussions with the Ponca Nation of Nebraska Friday, October 7, from 11 am-10 pm and Saturday, October 8, from 10:30 am-5 pm.

In 1879, a full 75 years before the Supreme Court issued its monumental decision in Brown v. Board of Education, a Ponca chief named Standing Bear stood up, extended his hand, and made a speech:

“This 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 of the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”

Standing Bear's argument convinced the federal judge to declare for the first time in the nation's history that Native Americans are "persons" under federal law, a declaration that contradicted decades of Indian policy.
Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian, wrote:Last night, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to the museum for the opening reception of the Ponca festival. She gave a lovely speech about the significance of the Standing Bear case (in which Chief Standing Bear was found to be a "person" under federal law). The Poncas then honored her with a song composed for Standing Bear many years ago. Indians have such a great sense of history and ceremony.Comment:  For more on Standing Bear, see NEA Award for "Native Daughters" Project and Standing Bear's Increasing Exposure.

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