“I am a man.”
Chief Standing Bear said those words in a Nebraska courtroom in 1879. At the time, U.S. law did not give Native Americans equal rights. Standing Bear was arguing for his legal rights. On May 12, 1879, a judge agreed: “An Indian is a person,” he declared. And on May 12, 2023, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) honored Standing Bear with a postage stamp.
“The United States was founded on the principle that ‘all men are created equal,’” said Anton Hajjar from the USPS. Those words are in the U.S. . Yet, Hajjar admitted, “it took our country far too long to recognize the humanity in many of its people — including the American Indians.” With its stamp, the USPS honored Chief Standing Bear’s fight for .
Chief Standing Bear was born around 1829 in an area that is now Nebraska. He was a member of the Ponca tribe. This group had lived there for hundreds of years. In 1876, the U.S. Congress ordered the Ponca tribe off their homeland. By 1877, U.S. troops had forced them to Indian Territory (now called Oklahoma). The native people had to walk 600 miles (965 km).
Many Ponca people died during the difficult trip. Standing Bear’s son, Bear Shield, died shortly after arriving. Standing Bear wanted to bury him at their Ponca homeland. With other members of his tribe, he returned to Nebraska. However, it was against the law for Native Americans to leave the reservation. So, the U.S. Army — and General George Crook — arrested the Ponca people. The group was put in prison.
Standing Bear sued the U.S. government for their freedom. He argued that the U.S. Constitution gave equal rights to all Americans. The court case was called Standing Bear v. Crook. It gave all Native Americans greater rights.
USPS held a ceremony on May 12 for the new stamp. Members of the Ponca tribe attended the event. Some played drums. “I hope this stamp will serve as a reminder of the lessons we’ve learned from Chief Standing Bear and the brave Ponca people,” said Hajjar.
Candace Schmidt is the chairwoman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. She said the stamp tells about the life of Chief Standing Bear. “This stamp will help illustrate his story of justice,” she said. Schmidt called it “a symbol of the pride and for all of our members.”
Richard Wright is a leader in the Ponca tribe. He told News-O-Matic this Standing Bear stamp “means everything” to him. Why? “Standing Bear is finally being recognized by the U.S. government,” Wright explained.
“Standing Bear is not just being recognized as a Ponca chief that did something for his people,” added Wright. “He’s being recognized as a civil rights hero.”
Updated May 15, 2023, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)