Posted on September 30, 2021
Author: Joe Starita
My Rating: 5/5
I rate this book a rare 5 stars. The main story is incredible, and although I’d heard it before, this book took it to a different level. Also it’s always interesting to read about the place where you live. Not only is this a United States Civil Rights story, but also a Nebraska story, and even an Omaha story – it’s very cool to think that the crux of it happened just a few blocks from where I live now.
Also, no part of the story was prolonged in the book – I was worried that the court case might take up several chapters – it did not, it was to the point and we got the key takeaways.
To me, this was a story about change – and willingness to change. Either choosing to change or choosing not to change or having change forced upon you.
I think General George Crook, the “Army’s most experienced Indian fighter”, is a hero. He had enough guts to change the way he thought about Native Americans and do something about it. So in the middle of the night, he snuck off and told the newspaper, “come report on this – what we’re doing is not right”. And during Standing Bear v. Crook, at the end of the Standing Bear’s speech, Crook was the first one to stand up and shake Standing Bear’s hand.
Judge Elmer Dundy seemed to have a change of heart also as it relates to Native Americans. He has been called an “Indian-hating judge”, but here it seems he was able to change his mind enough to rule in Standing Bear’s favor.
Standing Bear was obviously forced to change, in many ways. However, the changes I thought were most interesting were the changes he chose to make. The fact that he wanted to assimilate. So much so that during their speaking tour on the East Coast, he wanted to and eventually did, cut his hair and buy a new suit.
“More and more, the boy noticed, his father had taken to wearing white man’s clothing – shoes, trousers, shirts, sometimes a hat.”
I also heard on the Constitutional podcast, that Chief Standing Bear wanted his son to learn the ways of the white man. He sent his son to school to learn English and to church to learn about the white man’s God. He would be the bridge between the old way to the new way.
This to me, is an interesting point to think about. Standing Bear was very willing to change to the new ways and was proactively trying to position his son and the future of their tribe to assimilate more. I guess it could be argued both ways on whether or not that’s good or bad. However, there was a concept of the new way which Standing Bear would have much difficulty comprehending and would not really accept – the individual ownership of land.
The United States Government, on the other hand, did not seem willing to change… even though several individuals within the government were.
“twenty-two years after his homeland has been given away to the Lakota,
eleven years after a federal judge set him free with nowhere to go,
ten years after the Great Father pledge to return all their lands,
nine years after Congress approved the Ponca Relief Bill,
three years after the Dawes act,
a year after the Great Sioux Reservation was dismantled –
Standing bear received Allotment No. 146: a 297.8-acre parcel…”
It seemed that no matter what victories were had within government policies, reality never changed much for Standing Bear and the Ponca.
At the end of the book, I had very mixed feelings. Sure, Standing Bear gave a great speech and won the case — but did he ever get what he really wanted? He got to bury his son in their homeland, which I suppose was some consolation. But things were never the same as before 1877 when the Ponca were forced to walk off of their homeland to the Indian Territory. This, too, is change.