Standing Bear's Quest for Freedom: The First Civil Rights Victory for Native Americans

Article number: Dwyer SBQFF
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2023 Nebraska Book Award

Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Nation faced arrest for leaving the U.S. government’s reservation, without its permission, for the love of his son and his people. Standing Bear fought for his freedom not through armed resistance but with bold action, strong testimony, and heartfelt eloquence. He knew he and his people had suffered a great injustice.

Standing Bear wanted the right to live and die with his family on the beloved land of his Ponca ancestors, located within the Great Plains of Nebraska. In telling his story, Standing Bear’s Quest for Freedom relates an unprecedented civil rights victory for Native Americans: for the first time, in 1879, a federal court declared a Native American to be a “person”—a human being with the right to file an action for a redress of grievances in a federal court, like every other person in the United States.

Standing Bear’s victory in Standing Bear v. Crook began a national movement of reforming Native American rights—albeit a slow one. Because of the courage and leadership of Chief Standing Bear, the pervasive spirit of indifference of most Americans toward Native Americans was disrupted by this historic decision. America would never be the same.

University of Nebraska Press (Bison Books): 2022 | Paperback: 234 pages


About the Authors

Lawrence A. Dwyer is an attorney at law in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a member of the Nebraska Bar Association and served on the board of directors of the Douglas County Historical Society. Judi M. gaiashkibos (Ponca Tribe of Nebraska/Santee Sioux) is a national leader on Native American issues and since 1995 has served as the executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs.


“A history involving the law, government policy, treaties, and the military could so easily get mired in technical language. This book never does. Rather, it maintains a crystal clarity, nimbleness, and focus on what matters—the people, their humanity, and what happened. . . . [Dwyer] has created a vivid picture of the events before, during, and after the trial and never loses sight of the story’s true hero, Standing Bear.”
Judi M. gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs
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