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Ponca Indian Tribe

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The Ponca are a Native American tribe which currently has about 1300 members and which has its tribal headquarters in Niobrara, Nebraska.

At the time they first appeared in written history, the Ponca lived around the mouth of the Niobrara River, Nebraska. According to tradition they moved there from an area east of the Mississippi just before Columbus' arrival in the Americas. The Ponca appear on a 1701 map by Pierre-Charles Le Sueur, who places them along the Missouri. In 1789, fur trader Juan Baptiste Munier was given an exclusive licence to trade with the Ponca at the mouth of the Niobrara. He founded a trading post at the point where the Niobrara joins the Missouri and found about 800 Ponca residing there. Shortly after that, the tribe was hit by a devastating smallpox epidemic and in 1804, when they were visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition there were only about 200 Ponca. Later in the 19th century, their number rose to about 700. Unlike most other Plains Indians, the Ponca grew maize and kept vegetable gardens.

In 1858 the Ponca signed a treaty where they gave up parts of their land in return for protection and a permanent home on the Niobrara. In 1868 the lands of the Poncas were included in the Sioux Reservation by mistake. The Poncas became thus plagued with raiding Sioux who claimed the land as their own. When Congress in 1876 decided to exile several of the northern tribes to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, the Ponca were on the list. After inspecting the lands which the US government was offering for their new reservation and finding it unsuitable for agriculture, the Ponca chiefs decided against a move down to this Indian Territory. Hence, when governmental officals came in early 1877 to move the Ponca to their new land, the chiefs refused, citing their their earlier treaty. Most of the tribe refused and had to be moved by force. In their new location, the Ponca struggled with malaria, a shortage of food and the hot climate, and one in four died within the first year.

Chief Standing Bear was among those who had most vehemently protested the tribe's removal. When his eldest son, Bear Shield, lay on his death bed, 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 travelled back toward the Ponca homelands. He was then arrested for doing so without government permission. This lead to a famous trial, in which it was established for the first time that native Americans are "persons within the meaning of the law" of the United States and that they have certain rights as a result.

In 1881, 26,236 acres (106 kmē) of Knox County, Nebraska were returned to the Ponca and about half of the tribe moved back north. The tribe continued to decline and in 1966, it was officially terminated and its assets were dissolved. However, in the 1970s, efforts started to reinstate the tribe and on October 31, 1990, the Ponca Restoration Bill was signed into law. Currently, the Ponca are trying to rebuild a land base on their ancestral lands.



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