LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ A Nebraska congressman says he’ll seek federal recognition and a special designation for the trail the Ponca tribe took during a forced march more than 135 years ago.
Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska’s 1st District plans to introduce a resolution that would create federal recognition for the Chief Standing Bear Trail.
The Nebraska Legislature has passed a resolution supporting the trail.
The route taken in 1877 runs from the Niobrara River in Nebraska to near what now is Ponca City, Oklahoma, and back to the Omaha site of the 1879 trial of Chief Standing Bear. The chief and his tribe became the first Native Americans to be recognized as people under the law in the federal court decision.
“I think this story needs to be told and retold to America,” Fortenberry told the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/1lKFtuK ). “Chief Standing Bear is one of the most important civil rights leaders in our history.”
In 1877, the federal government decided to remove the Ponca tribe from Nebraska to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Federal troops enforced the removal orders, and the Poncas arrived at what became Ponca City, Oklahoma, in the summer of 1878.
Nearly a third of the tribe died on the trek, historians have said, and most of the survivors were sick or disabled. The chief and about 30 others were arrested when they tried to return to Nebraska.
In federal court the defense argued that the chief was being held illegally, forcing a ruling on whether a Native American had any constitutional rights to freedom.
The judge ruled on May 12, 1879, that Indians were “persons within the meaning of the law” and had the rights of citizenship. A government commission later gave the tribe land along the Niobrara River in Nebraska and allowed them to return from Oklahoma.