NOC students learned the history of Ponca Chief Standing Bear Wednesday from guest lecturer T.L. Walker at the Cultural Engagement Center at NOC Tonkawa as part of Native American Heritage Month.
Walker told the audience she was privileged to tell the story of Standing Bear, a story that she said was not told for over 100 years.
According to Walker, Standing Bear was a member of the Ponca Tribe that originally settled an area in northern Nebraska but was removed to Oklahoma in 1878 after the government placed the Ponca and Sioux nations on the same land in 1868.
After the two nations fought, the government wanted to move the Ponca Tribe to Oklahoma. The tribe sent 10 chiefs to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) by train to see the land but when they told government agents the land was not suitable, the government did not provide transportation back to Nebraska.
The chiefs then walked the 500 miles back to Nebraska where they found the tribe’s possessions packed by the government. The 750-member tribe was then forced to travel to Indian Territory on foot. One-third of the tribe died on the way to Indian Territory, including Standing Bear’s daughter.
According to Walker, the Ponca Tribe had to learn the new soil and warm climate. Standing Bear’s son, Bear Shield, became ill after the tribe moved. He asked his father to bury him in Nebraska if he died, a promise Standing Bear made to his son.
When his son died, Standing Bear took his son to Nebraska for burial but was arrested for leaving his Indian Territory land.
After his arrest, Standing Bear’s story became known. A number of attorneys took on his case and argued that his 14th Amendment rights were violated when the Ponca Tribe was forced to move from their homeland. He appeared in court dressed in full regalia. His attorneys recommended that he not testify.
A judge ruled in his favor Standing Bear then became a civil rights advocate and gave speeches across the country.
Many Ponca members stayed in Indian Territory while Standing Bear and some of the tribe moved back to his native Nebraska land. He died in 1908.
Walker said she often tells the story of Standing Bear in an effort to explain that “It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to embrace that fact that people are different.”
She often tells the Standing Bear story to kindergarten and lower elementary students where society has not instilled on them that “It’s not okay to be different.”
Walker said the Standing Bear Museum and Education Center, located on the south edge of Ponca City on a 63-acre park, features tribal displays, traveling exhibits, artwork and other educational materials.
The museum honors six area tribes including Osage, Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria, Kaw, Tonkawa and Ponca.
The Ponca Chief Standing Bear statue located at the park is 22 feet tall, created by Cowboy Artist of America, Oreland C. Joe.
Northern Oklahoma College, the state’s oldest community college, is a multi-campus, land-grant institution that provides high quality, accessible, and affordable educational opportunities and services which create life-changing experiences and develop students as effective learners and leaders within their communities in a connected, ever changing world.
Serving nearly 5,000 students, NOC is a public, two-year community college with locations in Tonkawa, Enid and Stillwater. The college is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and offers associate degrees in three general areas: Arts, Science and Applied Science. The associate degree fulfills lower-division course work which is applicable towards a bachelor’s degree.
For more information about Northern Oklahoma College or giving to the NOC Foundation, please contact the development office at (580) 628-6214 or visit the NOC website at www.noc.edu.