Ponca Tribe of Nebraska

Ponca children are led in a drum circle on March 6, 2013, in Lincoln, Neb. The tribe was rewarded with federal recognition as the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska in 1990.

Francis Gardler, Lincoln Journal Star

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NIOBRARA, Neb. | The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska is iconic in its quest to persevere in spite of hundreds of years of challenges to its existence.

That it exists today is a testament to the determination and endurance of tribal members to overcome forced removal, loss of land and, most recently, lack of recognition by the federal government.

Historically, the Poncas lived along the Niobrara River in northern and northeast Nebraska. They moved to a reservation near Niobrara, Neb., but were forced to Oklahoma in the 1870s.

Many died on the trek south, which some consider the Ponca Tribe's equivalent to the Cherokee Nation's infamous Trail of Tears.

Nebraska lawmakers this summer introduced federal legislation to memorialize the Poncas' 550-mile journey from Niobrara, Neb., to Ponca City, Okla., as the Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail.

Some Ponca remained in Oklahoma, where they founded the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. But others, including Chief Standing Bear, refused to stay.

In honoring his dead son's wishes, Standing Bear led a group back to Nebraska so he could bury his son in his homeland.

He and approximately 30 others were arrested and jailed as a result.

Standing Bear argued in court that he was held illegally, a battle he won.

The case, Standing Bear v. Crook, would establish that American Indians are people with rights and freedoms under the U.S. Constitution.

The decision on May 12, 1879, in Omaha, found that American Indians are "persons within the meaning of the law."

The Poncas were allowed to return to Nebraska, but the struggles were not over.

In 1966, the tribe lost its dwindling landholdings when it lost federal recognition. In the 20 years prior, the federal government began removing American Indians and their land from the federal trust to cut down on services and money required through treaties.

Tribal members fought for reinstatement. They were rewarded with federal recognition as the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska in 1990.

The tribe has no reservation. It has several regional offices to provide services to members, including in Niobrara and Sioux City.

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