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Chief Standing Bear, Native American civil rights icon, is honored on a postal stamp

The U.S. Postal Service has issued a Forever stamp honoring Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who championed 14th Amendment rights.
U.S. Postal Service
The U.S. Postal Service has issued a Forever stamp honoring Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who championed 14th Amendment rights.

Chief Standing Bear, whose landmark lawsuit in 1879 established that a Native American is a person under the law, is on a new postage stamp.

The U.S. Postal Service released a Forever stamp on Friday honoring the Ponca tribe chief, a civil rights icon known for his "I Am a Man" speech.

The stamp's release comes 146 years after the U.S. Army forcibly removed Chief Standing Bear and some 700 other members of the tribe from their homeland in northeast Nebraska. Standing Bear's son was among those who died of hunger and disease after the tribe's 600-mile journey on foot to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

When Standing Bear made the perilous trip back to Nebraska to honor his son with a burial in the tribe's homeland in 1879, he was arrested and imprisoned at Fort Omaha.

His arrest was the catalyst for a lawsuit that led to an 1879 ruling that determined a Native American was a person under the law with an inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

At the end of his two-day trial in a Nebraska federal court, the judge honored his request to speak. Through a translator, Standing Bear delivered a short but striking speech that included the famous four words that asserted his humanity. Extending his right hand, he told Federal Judge Elmer Dundy, "That 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."

The judge agreed. Native Americans deserved the same legal protections as other Americans, he ruled.

In a statement, Candace Schmidt, the chairwoman of the Ponca Tribe, celebrated the stamp as a "symbol of the pride and perseverance for all of our members past, present and future."

"It took our country far too long to recognize the humanity in many of its people — including the American Indians who lived in these lands for thousands of years," said Anton Hajjar, vice chairman of the USPS Board of Governors.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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