Chief Standing Bear cropped horizontal

Chief Standing Bear

WASHINGTON — The new Standing Bear statue being unveiled this week at the U.S. Capitol represents more than a commemoration of the iconic civil rights leader.

“It can’t be about just a bronze sculpture,” said Judi gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs. “It has to be a living legacy to Standing Bear. We have to continue to fight.”

To illustrate that point, gaiashkibos cited violence against Native American women, many of whom are killed or go missing each year with relatively little public attention.

“That’s the call to action that this brings with it,” gaiashkibos said. “We have to keep working in the spirit of Standing Bear and be Standing Bear strong.”

She is among the Nebraskans headed to Washington to attend the statue dedication scheduled for 2 p.m. Central time Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, State Sen. Tom Brewer and other Nebraska officials will participate in the ceremony in Washington. At the same time, there will be a watch party in the Warner Chamber of the Nebraska State Capitol. That watch party will include remarks by Nebraska Supreme Court Judge Stephanie Stacy.

The new statue honors the legendary Ponca chief, who was arrested after returning to his Nebraska homeland to bury his son. His eloquent words at the ensuing trial led to Native Americans being recognized for the first time as persons under the law, entitled to civil rights.

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Each state has two statues at the U.S. Capitol as part of the Statuary Hall collection, although overcrowding has resulted in most of the statues being moved to various other spots around the Capitol complex. Back in 1937, Nebraska opted for statues of Julius Sterling Morton and William Jennings Bryan.

Morton’s statue is now located in the visitors center. The Nebraska Legislature voted last year to replace Morton with a statue of Willa Cather and to swap Bryan for Standing Bear.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., successfully pushed to ensure that Standing Bear receives a spot as prominent as the one Bryan now enjoys, just inside one of the primary entryways to Statuary Hall.

Fortenberry reflected on “one of America’s great civil rights leaders” replacing Bryan, who was a presidential candidate and once held the same congressional seat as Fortenberry.

“This statue, voted on by the Nebraska Legislature and that now will represent Nebraska in the United States Capitol, is so important to America’s story,” Fortenberry said.

The congressman also said he hopes the statute will help advance his legislation aimed at creating a national historic trail in the chief’s honor.

Bringing the new sculpture to the Capitol reflects the work of many, gaiashkibos noted. Among those are sculptor Ben Victor, the only living artist to have three statues on permanent display in the Capitol. Then there’s Lincoln native Don Campbell, who donated the U.S. Capitol statue and another casting for Lincoln’s Centennial Mall.

And gaiashkibos’ daughter Katie Brossy has helped coordinate matters in Washington, where she works as an attorney. Her law firm, Akin Gump, is hosting a Tuesday evening reception.

Those inspired by Standing Bear say the statue will elevate him in the national discussion.

For her part, gaiashkibos recalled how she has felt invisible at times as a Native American woman.

“This makes all the little boys and girls that go visit the Capitol — whether they’re Native or not — remember the first peoples,” gaiashkibos said. “And guess what — we’re still here.”

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Reporter - Politics/Washington D.C.

Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH.

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