The Battle Native Americans Won in the Supreme Court

These people were being forced off of their ancestral lands into shitty backwoods of Oklahoma and finally the Poncas, won a case.




On May 1, 1879, United States ex rel. Standing Bear v. Crook began in a crowded federal courthouse in Omaha. The purpose of the trial, Nebraska District Court Judge Elmer Scipio Dundy explained, was to determine whether Standing Bear and the group of Poncas had been lawfully arrested and detained.Webster and Poppleton argued that the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants citizenship as well as equal protection and due process of the law to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, applied to all Indians who had severed tribal relations and did not owe allegiance to any other form of government.For the defense, Genio Madison Lambertson, U.S. Attorney for the District of Nebraska, argued that an Indian was not a citizen of the United States and was not entitled to sue in its courts.After the legal proceedings had ended, in an unusual break from procedure, Judge Dundy allowed Standing Bear to stand up and address the court. He spoke with the aid of an interpreter, Bright Eyes, the daughter of the Omaha chief.Home at LastOn May 12, 1879, Judge Elmer S. Dundy made history by ruling in U.S. v. Crook , 25 F.Cas. 695 (C.C.Neb. 1879) that an Indian is indeed a person.“During the fifteen years in which I have been engaged in administering the laws of my country,” the opinion began, “I have never been called upon to hear or decide a case that appealed so strongly to my sympathy as the one now under consideration.” The judge noted that the Habeas Corpus Act allowed federal courts to issue writs to “persons” or “parties,” and that nowhere did it describe them as “citizens.” “I must hold, then,” he continued, “that Indians, and consequently the relators, are ‘persons,’ such as described by and included within the laws before quoted.”Judge Dundy also ruled that General Crook had rightful authority in removing the group of Poncas from the reservation, but that his orders had been in error, for he was not instructed to convey them to the nearest civil authority. In forcing the group to return to Indian Territory, the government would deprive the Poncas of their rights.Reactions in the press ranged from fear to elation, but none were more overjoyed than the group of Poncas who had accompanied Standing Bear in January and February. They were now allowed to remain at the Omahas’ reservation. Restitution was made to the Ponca tribe in 1881, but the geographical split would remain. The tribe was eventually officially divided into two branches, one by the Niobrara River in Nebraska, the other in Oklahoma.After a brief move to Indian Territory in 1889, Standing Bear returned to Nebraska and built a farmhouse by the Niobrara. He would remain there with his family until his death in 1908. He was buried near the village of his ancestors, where his descendants still reside.


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