NATIVE AMERICAN Ponca Restoration
Why was the issue of termination such an important one for both Native Americans and the federal government?
Restoring the Ponca Tribe
Research compiled by: Adriana T., Nicole A., Sergio B.M.
Chief Standing Bear was removed from his land and sent on the treacherous journey to the Ponca reservation in Oklahoma. On the journey to the reservation Standing Bear’s oldest son Bear Shield died. When Bear Shield was on his deathbed, Standing Bear promised to have him buried on the tribe's ancestral lands. In order to carry out his promise, Standing Bear left the reservation in Oklahoma and traveled back toward the Ponca homelands. He was arrested for going without the United States Government's permission and was confined at Fort Omaha. Many people took up his cause, and two prominent attorneys offered their services for free. Standing Bear filed a law suit challenging his arrest. In Standing Bear v. Crook (1879), held in Omaha, Nebraska, the United States District Court established for the first time that Native Americans are persons and that they have certain rights as well. This was an important civil rights case.
After 1962 the tribal status of the Ponca was terminated. The termination policy of the United States government was a way to force assimilation onto the Poncas and other Native American tribes. Smaller tribes, like the Ponca, were terminated most often because they did not have as much power. There were other reasons for their termination as well. From the side of the Ponca, one of the reasons was that the young men from the tribe were moving away because they wanted to live the city life. When they moved away, the older Poncas were feeling hopeless of the future of their tribal traditions because if there were no younger generations to pass down the traditions, then their traditions would cease to exist. The United States Government terminated the tribe (Northern Ponca). It distributed its land by allotment to members and sold off extra land.
In 1965 after the termination of the Ponca Tribe, former members could not be called a tribe by the government. Former members of the Ponca Tribe were able to visit Native American Centers around the region, but they could not hold leadership positions. They lost their homes, dignity, pride, and family. After they were terminated they scattered all around the country from Alaska to Puerto Rico. Because they could not live on the reservation, they lived in cities and had difficulties finding jobs without government or traditional medical help. It was a very difficult to keep their traditions alive. Despite these challenges the Ponca people continued to pass their culture down to future generations.
In 1986 after 21 years, Fred Leroy decided to restore the Ponca Tribe. He got the idea from his daughter, Rhonda. She asked why the Ponca Tribe was left out when she was doing a report for her Nebraska History class in the 4th grade. Leroy asked the Ponca people if they wanted to be restored as a tribe. Three hundred of the 442 members from 1965 Final Termination Roll favored being restored as a tribe. Leroy drafted out a pettition for Ponca Tribe Restoration in 1986. In the summer of 1987, he received Bureau of Indian Affairs requirements to restore a terminated tribe to federal recognition. In order for the tribe to be restored, the United States Congress had to pass a law. After three years of LeRoy meeting with Senators, the law was passed by Congress.
On October 31, 1990, the United States Congress passed the Ponca Restoration Act. Now the Ponca people were federally recognized as a tribe, and along with that, the Ponca Tribe received federal benefits including healthcare and education again. However, they still did not have a reservation, so the tribe began building urban homes for the Ponca families. With federal money, they built forty houses in four different cities in Nebraska. Fred LeRoy, an advocate of the Ponca people, saw the needs of his people and built the Ponca Health and Wellness Center.
Today, it is named The Fred LeRoy Heath and Wellness Center. It offers traditional medical, and modern medical and dental care, and it also offers social services. These services are offered to all Native Americans. The clinic currently has a sweat lodge that is used for holistic ceremonies to connect with the spirits, and Medicine Men visit and perform ceremonies. The clinic provides a sense of home and community for the Poncas.
The University of Nebraska-Omaha also honored Fred LeRoy by naming their annual pow-wow the Wambli Sapa Memorial Pow-Wow. Wambli Sapa was LeRoy's Native American name, meaning Black Eagle.