History grants us the ability to see our lives through a much larger lens. It helps us develop an understanding of what the present moment requires. History gives the opportunity to step back and evaluate who we are and where we’re going.
The story of Chief Standing Bear has long been ingrained in Nebraska’s history, but now it has been woven into the tapestry of our national story as well.
On September 18th, I joined with House and Senate leaders, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Governor Ricketts, and members of the Ponca tribe in dedicating a statue in the U.S. Capitol Building to honor of Chief Standing Bear.
I am proud the state of Nebraska put forth his statue – America needs to hear his story.
It’s a story of a deep love for homeland. It’s a story of the denial of basic human rights and a historic trial that followed. And it’s a story of a devoted father, who on a brutal journey to fulfill a promise to his dying son, changed our nation for the better.
After leaving the Indian Territory to give his son the sacred burial he deserved, Chief Standing Bear was arrested and forced to prove he had God-given rights as a human being.
Eventually, the community heard his story, and rallied for justice – resulting in a historic trial in the U.S. district court in Omaha. After the lawyers made their arguments, the judge granted Chief Standing Bear the opportunity to speak.
What followed was one of the greatest speeches in American history.
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Turning to face the judge he held up his hand saying, “This 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 of the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”
Chief Standing Bear echoed those same principles our founders ingrained in our blueprint for freedom – that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights.
Days later, the judge ruled in favor of Chief Standing Bear – and “equal justice under law” was extended to Native Americans.
The room where hundreds gathered for the statue dedication ceremony is known as National Statuary Hall. The House of Representatives met there until 1857, and their deliberations were overseen by another statue – Clio, the muse of history. She served as a constant reminder that their words and actions – the good and the bad – would be judged by time.
During my remarks at the unveiling ceremony, I pointed out that Clio’s statue is still in its same location– documenting who we are now and where we are going.
That day, Clio turned a new page. In the very room where she observed Congress shamefully passing the Indian Removal Act, we dedicated a statue to honor the life of Chief Standing Bear. His statue will inspire the millions of people who visit the U.S. Capitol Building every year to learn the story of America’s enduring commitment to a more perfect union.
Chief Standing Bear’s legacy, message of equality, and true example of the power of human freedom lives on in our cathedral of democracy. It was a great honor to celebrate the life and contributions of this Nebraska treasure and American hero.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.