Chief Standing Bear (Smithsonian Institution)
In 1877, the Ponca tribe was ordered to leave the reservation in Nebraska to which it had been assigned, and go to new territory in Oklahoma, a journey that cost more than a third of its members their lives. It’s an old story, one repeated over and over throughout Indian Country. But this one had a twist.
The tribe’s chief, Standing Bear, fought back – in court.
University of Nebraska journalism professor Joe Starita tells his story in “I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice,” published by St. Martin’s Press.
“Undoubtedly, Standing Bear would have been considered an enemy combatant of his time,” Starita tells Miami Herald reporter Jaweed Kaleem, here. “And yet he successfully used a writ of habeas corpus – the only liberty included in the original text of the Constitution – to gain access to an American courtroom, where he sued the U.S. government on behalf of his weak, starving, homesick people.” A judge ruled in his favor.
Standing Bear’s story is more than a century old, but it resonates today, Starita says.
“… Scores of ‘enemy combatants’ remain locked up in Guantánamo, cut off from the oldest liberty in the Constitution, unable to have a court decide their guilt or innocence,” he tells Kaleem.
“What has often separated this country from others is its adherence to the belief of ‘equality before the law.’ So how could this have been a guiding principle in 1879 but not in 2009?”
That’s a good question. And this sounds like a good book – something to keep in mind as this snuggle-into-a-chair-with-a-blankie-and-a-book season arrives.
You can also read a quick summary of Standing Bear’s story here.
Tags: buffalo post, Chief Standing Bear, enemy combatants, Guantanamo, Joe Starita, Native American news, Ponca, University of Nebraska, “I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice"