BOSTON (AP & KMTV) — A tomahawk once owned by Chief Standing Bear, a pioneering Native American civil rights leader, is returning to his Nebraska tribe after decades in a museum at Harvard.
The university's Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology says it's been working with members of the Ponca Tribe in Nebraska and Oklahoma to repatriate the artifact.
The tribe's chairman says its anticipated return is a powerful symbol of homecoming for the tribe. Standing Bear gave the tomahawk to one of his lawyers after winning the 1879 court case that made him one of the first Native Americans granted civil rights.
"I think it's great," said Larry Wright, Chairman of the Ponca Tribe in Nebraska. "To know that an item that belongs to Standing Bear, that exists from that time...our Ponca people were forcibly removed to Oklahoma."
Wright explained that Standing Bear gave up the Tomahawk to his lawyer because it was a prized possession and he wanted to thank those who helped the Ponca return to their homeland in Nebraska.
The statue of Standing Bear that represents Nebraska in Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol Building depicts the civil rights icon holding the same tomahawk, said Wright.
Representatives from the Peabody Museum corresponded with a descendant of Standing Bear, who asked for his ancestor's treasured item to be returned to the Ponca. Wright said that it led to conversations between museum officials and the chairmen of the Ponca tribes in both Nebraska and Oklahoma. He called those meetings "productive" and said that ongoing discussions came to a head in early June.
Brett Chapman, an attorney with Ponca heritage who is based in Oklahoma, is a descendant of Chief Standing Bear and was central to conversations with the museum.
“I am proud to have led the effort to reclaim this meaningful piece of Ponca history," said Chapman. "I did this for the future generations of Ponca children born 50 or 100 years from now, so that they will be able to have this tangible connection with this rich history that is uniquely their heritage. This heritage item belonged to the Ponca people then, it belongs to us now and after this, it will belong to us forever."
Wright expressed his gratitude to the museum administrators who were willing to return the tomahawk.
"We just appreciated their willingness to do the right thing," he said.
When later asked about a timetable for the return, Chapman said he wasn't sure but probably not for several months at least.