MAY 12, 1879


This landmark decision gave Native Americans civil rights under U.S. law.  In 1877, the Ponca, having ceded their lands in Nebraska, were relocated to Indian Territory (now-Oklahoma).  By 1878, a third of the tribe had died from disease and starvation, including Standing Bear’s eldest son, Bear Shield, who asked to be buried in the tribe’s former home.  When Standing Bear arrived in Nebraska, he was arrested by Brig. Gen. George Crook for leaving the reservation.  Standing Bear sued for a writ of habeas corpusto contest the arrest.  The legal question was whether Native Americans, not then U.S. citizens, were “persons” in the eyes of the court.  The District Attorney claimed only American citizens had “standing” to sueStanding Bear held out his hand and replied, “That hand is not the color of yours. But if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.” 

Sources:  Mike Johanns, “Chief Standing Bear: Retracing the Steps of a Civil Rights Leader,” Indian Country Today, 9/4/2014.  Retrieved 8/2/2019, “This Day in History, May 12, 1879: Standing Bear v. Crook Grants Civil Rights to Native Americans Under U.S. Law,” Healing Minnesota Stories, 5/12/2019.  Retrieved 8/2/2019,
Photo:  Author unknown.  Date:  Pre-1910.  Public Domain in U.S.:  Pre 1/1/1925.  Public Domain elsewhere where copyright term is author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

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