Nebraska has been a crossroads for more than travel or trade. In the struggle for justice and equality, Nebraska has played at least one major role that affected the entire nation and millions of individuals. It opened the heart of a prejudiced legal system and began a procession toward the dignity and self-determination of all people that we still journey toward.
Like so many other nations of the indigenous peoples of our land, the Poncas were forcibly removed from their homeland to the designated Indian Territory in Oklahoma in the 1800’s. Unwilling to bury his son in a land in which he had no roots, Standing Bear and a group of his people, began the journey north. Legally, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior, Standing Bear was arrested for illegally leaving Oklahoma. Held at Fort Omaha, Standing Bear and his party received the help of sympathetic legal experts. It was the result of that trial, held in U.S. District Court in Omaha, that Standing Bear was a person of full legal standing in the eyes of the law. It still strikes us as odd that it took a legal decision to determine that a human being was in fact a person, but we as Nebraskans can claim with pride that it was from our state that this declaration was made.
Material and Construction
One side of this Nebraska By Heart features a portrait of Chief Standing Bear of the Poncas. The background motif is taken from a traditional Ponca tapestry. The other side of the heart shows an extended hand over which float the words that Standing Bear spoke at his trial, the words which swayed the heart of the sitting judge: “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man.” The impact of those words allowed Standing Bear and his people to return home and imparted legal personhood to all Native Americans.
This artwork reflects that it is part of our heart here in the Heartland to continue our struggle for equality and dignity for all people. It is a long journey that still goes on, but Standing Bear is one landmark that stands proudly on that road toward justice.