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Learn about Nebraska’s Native American tribes during Native American Heritage Month

'I am a man. God made us both,' Chief Standing Bear
Chief Standing Bear extending his arm.jpg
Sculpture on the education trail at Ponca tribal museum in Niobrara.jpg
Dr. Susan La Flesche monument in Lincoln.jpg
Honoring-the-Clan sculpture in Winnebago.jpg
Circle at Chief Standing Bear monument in Niobrara.jpg
Clan sculpture at Winnebago.jpg
Chief Standing Bear in Niobrara.jpg
Posted at 4:22 PM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 17:22:39-04

OMAHA, Nebraska (KMTV) — During a trial to prevent the United States military from sending him and his small group of Ponca tribal members back to their new reservation in Oklahoma, Ponca Chief Standing Bear stood in the Omaha courtroom and extended his arm.

"That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain," Standing Bear told the judge. "If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. God made us both."

Chief Standing Bear statue on Centennial Mall in Lincoln.jpg
Chief Standing Bear statue on Centennial Mall in Lincoln

The words spoken by Standing Bear — Maⁿchú-Naⁿzhíⁿ in the Ponca language — helped lead to a groundbreaking federal court decision; U.S. Judge Elmer Dundy ruled that, despite the federal government's assertion to the opposite, the Ponca were people under the law. The first civil rights victory for Native Americans confirmed they were human.

With November being Native American Heritage Month, Nebraska's tribes offer interesting historical and cultural attractions where you can learn more about the tribes that call the state home.

Ponca Tribal Museum, Niobrara

You can learn more about Chief Standing Bear by visiting the Ponca tribal museum near Niobrara. Site of an annual August powwow, the museum is open weekdays and features repatriated items, such as headdresses, tools and beadwork.

The tribal grounds are also home to an education trail, leading to a life-size sculpture of Chief Standing Bear. With a circle of life painted on the plaza in front of him, it signifies the colors of life that includes directions or seasons, such as White for East/Spring, Yellow for South/Summer, Red for West/Fall and Black for North/ Winter. A colorful flower garden borders the plaza.

Earth lodge on Pnca education trail in Niobrara.jpg
Earth lodge on Ponca education trail in Niobrara

The education trail also features an earth lodge, sculptures and signage explaining historical and cultural exhibits.

Chief Standing Bear is also recognized with a sculpture in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and on Centennial Mall in Lincoln.

Santee Dakota Veterans Monument, Santee

Dedicated about two years ago, the Santee Dakota (Sioux) veterans monument honors the men and women from the tribe, who have served in the American military, dating back to the Civil War. Among the veterans are the 38+2, men who were accused and convicted of taking part in the 1862 Dakota-US War in Minnesota.

Battles broke out following the United States' decision to reroute an annual stipend due to the Dakota for the war effort. The annual payment was part of an agreement to cede much of southern Minnesota to the United States. Following a poor harvest, the lack of a stipend left most of the Santee penniless and without options for food and clothing for the upcoming winter. Merchants in New Ulm refused to extend credit to tribal members.

Santee veterans monument.jpg
Santee veterans monument

One day, while hunting, a group of young Santee men came upon a farmer and his family. Fighting ensued and the family was killed. The act led to more skirmishes and then actual battles. During the war, which lasted several weeks, local residents sought military support. Once soldiers arrived, the Santee warriors escaped. However, several were captured and imprisoned, awaiting trial.

With 300 men tried and convicted, they were sentenced to death. President Lincoln's advisors didn't think executing so many people would be politically acceptable. He agreed and they settled on a new number — 38. With the others' sentences commuted, the 38 men were hanged during a public execution in Mankato, Minnesota, on Dec. 26, 1862. A special gallows was built for the execution.

Another two men were captured elsewhere and executed, possibly without trials. The group of Santees became known as the 38+2.

Today, Reconciliation Park stands across the street from the execution site. A public library is located there. An art piece featuring the names of the 38+2 and a poem anchors the park, along with statues, including one of a bison.

About 1,800 Santees, who had nothing to do with the fighting, were escorted to Fort Snelling, near St. Paul, where they were imprisoned for a year. Relocated to the Crow Creek Agency, the Santee remained there for a few years before being marched from central South Dakota to northeast Nebraska on the Santees' Trail of Tears. Today, the Santee observe their arrival to the banks of the Missouri River with a wacipi (powwow) each June.

Santee also has a small museum at the tribe's headquarters, which is open to the public during the week.

Sculpture Garden, Winnebago

Learn about the Winnebago (Ho Chunk) clans at the Honoring-the-Clans Sculpture Garden and Cultural Plaza. The garden features statues representing each of the 12 clans, explaining their meanings and the role each play within the tribe.

Winnebago's clan sculpture.jpg
Winnebago's clan sculpture

The Winnebago relocated to northeast Nebraska in the mid-1860s. Chief Little Priest negotiated the land deal with the federal government, giving his tribe a permanent home. In return, Little Priest and a contingent of men would serve as scouts for the U.S. military. This bothered Little Priest, but, in the end, he found a final location for the Winnebago to call home.

The Winnebago nation celebrates the return home of Little Priest and 75 scouts after their service. Celebrating its 155th year in 2021, the Homecoming event, hosted the last weekend in July, is the oldest powwow in North America, attracting hundreds of dancers and thousands of visitors.

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, Macy

As the first Native American physician, Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte focused her career on serving the needs of Native Americans and others unable to afford proper healthcare. Her career choice was determined as a child when she saw a doctor refuse to care for Native Americans.

Completing her medical training at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, Dr. Picotte returned to the Omaha reservation, which buttresses the Winnebago reservation, to serve people.

She fulfilled a dream when she opened a small hospital in Walthill, which is located on the reservation. Dr. Picotte, who suffered from chronic illnesses most of her life, was unable to work at the hospital bearing her name.

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte statue on Lincoln's Centennial Mall.jpg
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte statue on Lincoln's Centennial Mall

The hospital, which became run down and uninhabitable over the years, was named to the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1993. The Nebraska Medical Association has been raising funds to renovate the facility and have it serve the public as a learning facility and museum.

Dr. Picotte, who died in 1915 at the age of 49, is honored with a statue on Lincoln's Centennial Mall. The sculpture was dedicated as part of Nebraska's first Indigenous Peoples Day in October.

The Omaha Nation celebrates its harvest with a powwow held in August.

Crazy Horse, Fort Robinson

Following the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, Crazy Horse refused to surrender to American authorities or escape to Canada, as some others did. He led attacks on military targets for another year before realizing he had no other option than to surrender.

Crazy Horse memorial at Fort Robinson State Park.JPG

Under armed guard at Fort Robinson, Crazy Horse was stabbed to death by a soldier. Stories conflict, with some people believing he tried to escape, while some Native Americans believe he was murdered, because of his status as a spiritual warrior. A memorial honors Crazy Horse.

More than a dozen Native American tribes once lived in Nebraska before relocating on their own or being forcibly removed. The four tribes in Nebraska today have centuries of history that are often celebrated through stories and powwows. Each tribe welcomes visitors and encourages the public to attend their powwows.

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