Nebraskan leaders, members of the Ponca tribe, and House and Senate leadership held a dedication ceremony Wednesday for Nebraska’s statue of Chief Standing Bear in the U.S. Capitol.
“Chief Standing Bear is a Nebraska treasure and an American hero. It was a privilege to join so many Nebraskans, Ponca tribe members, and colleagues today at his statue dedication ceremony. The statue will inspire the millions of people who visit National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol every year to learn about his enduring commitment to equality and human freedom,”said Senator Deb Fischer.
The unveiling ceremony took place in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, where the statue is now located. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that statues of civil rights leaders “tell the nation’s story”, and the statue of Standing Bear is the “next chapter in that journey.”
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts called Standing Bear one of the greatest civil rights leaders that “almost no one knows about”, and paid tribute to the famous legal case in which native Americans were granted civil rights in america.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry said having a physical statue is important. “We reach back to remembrance and feel the past” he said. “We touch the nobility of another person’s life, and we connect with their sacrifice.”
State Sen. Tom Brewer, himself a native American, gave a benediction at the end of the ceremony. Brewer gave thanks for standing bear’s courage and dedication to human rights. “We thank you for Chief Standing Bear’s unwavering courage to speak the truth; to proclaim that native people are recognized as people. That we have God-given rights that man’s law must respect.”
Each state is granted two statues for display in the Capitol. In 2018, Nebraska state senators voted to replace both of Nebraska’s existing statues—of presidential candidate and orator William Jennings Bryan and former Agriculture Secretary Julius Sterling Morton—with statues of Chief Standing Bear and writer Willa Cather.
The Chief Standing Bear statue, which was sculpted by Ben Victor two years ago, is made of bronze and stands 11 feet tall from its base. It honors the former chief of the Ponca tribe, who was arrested while traveling back to Nebraska to bury his son. During the subsequent 1879 trial, Chief Standing Bear’s speech led to the recognition of Native Americans as people under the law with full civil rights. The statue of William Jennings Bryan, which stood in the U.S. Capitol since 1937, now returns to Nebraska for display. Sculptor Littleton Alston is currently working on the new statue of Willa Cather.