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Bringing the tomahawk of Standing Bear back to the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska

Native American leader chief Standing Bear ended up giving his beloved tomahawk to his attorney because he only had a few valuables.
Posted at 6:46 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 19:46:09-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) - The tomahawk of legendary leader Standing Bear lives at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University but the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and descendants of Chief Standing Bear want it back.

At a public hearing in Lincoln, members of the Ponca Tribe asked a committee to advance a resolution that would bring the tomahawk home.

"Harvard has no connection to Standing Bear, it has no connection to the Ponca people. Harvard literally has very little reason to keep this Tomahawk," State Sen. Tom Brewer said.

Attorney Brett Chapman is a relative of Standing Bear. He testified before legislators.

"One thing I think is important about this bill it recognizes the inherent sovereignty of Native American nations such as our Ponca leaders back here," Chapman said. "By returning it to them and their custody, that recognizes them as the proper custodians for it."

Chapman is defensive of his ancestor's legacy.

"It's always been theirs, that's how it is. This tomahawk has always belonged to the Ponca people, it always will," Chapman said. "We thank Harvard for being custodians of it, for this time, but when they gave it back, it's up to the Ponca nation government to do what they want."

Judi gaiashkibos (she chooses to spell her name with a lowercase) is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs. She fiercely insists the tomahawk should come home to Nebraska.

"If Standing Bear had kept the tomahawk it either would have been buried with him or given away to a significant relative. This is the Peabody's chance to join the nation in honoring the legacy of Standing Bear," gaiashkibos said.

Trevor Jones with History Nebraska spoke in a more neutral position. He explained how this process could work.

"If it is simply a request to bring the tomahawk back to Nebraska and the Ponca people, that would be a moral issue and not a legal one, simply a question of what is the right thing to do," Jones said.

Jones is confident the process will happen. It's a process Ponca tribe members feel is long overdue.

"It's important to see that we've been here all along and this item has been ours all along," Jones said.

A committee unanimously voted to advance the resolution which will go to the Legislature for a vote.