In 1879, a Ponca Indian chief stood up, extended his hand, and made one of the greatest arguments for equality under the law in the history of the United States. Chief Standing Bear demanded that a federal court afford him the same rights as whites under the law, despite the fact that his skin was a different color.
Cherokee playwright and attorney Mary Kathryn Nagle wrote "Waaxe's Law," a play that tells the story of the forced removal of the Ponca tribe to present-day Oklahoma and Chief Standing Bear's subsequent journey for justice—a journey that resulted in the first federal court decision declaring Indians to be "persons" under the law. Although Chief Standing Bear won his fight for equality in 1879—a full 75 years before the Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education—very few Americans know of his story or the freedoms he won for Native Americans.
"The Ponca tribe of Nebraska would not be where we are today if it was not for Chief Standing Bear; in fact, we may not even exist if it were not for this great chief. 'Waaxe's Law' is more than a play; it is a part of our tribe's history," says Rebecca White, chairwoman, Ponca tribe of Nebraska.
For more on Standing Bear, see NMAI Celebrates Standing Bear and Standing Bear's Increasing Exposure.