Mural in Renamed State Building to Depict Standing Bear
By Fred Knapp , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
May 23, 2022, midnight ·
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An office building used by Nebraska’s state court system will soon be renamed for Chief Standing Bear, with a mural depicting parts of his life.
In the lobby of the old Executive Building, across 14th Street from the Capitol, Artist Sarah Harris is talking to Lincoln high school students about the mural she’s painting. The twenty one and a half by seven and a half foot mural depicts key scenes from the Ponca chief’s life, including a grim, greyish blue depiction of the tribe being forcibly moved from their homeland along the Niobrara River to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1877. Harris describes what she’s doing.
“I like to use color a lot of times to depict emotion, because a lot of memory is tied to emotion and that’s why this is in blues and cool color, just to depict the solemnity and the sadness of the scene,” Harris said.
The tribe arrived in Oklahoma too late to plant crops for the year and many died, including Standing Bear’s son, Bear Shield. When the chief tried to return his body for burial along the Niobrara, he was arrested. When Standing Bear’s trial was held in Omaha, Judge Elmer Dundy ruled for the first time an Indian is a person within the meaning of the law. Harris describes the final scene in her mural.
“ Here we have Chief Standing Bear, what you see over here, him in the courtroom. And now we have him in color. And this way we’re showing that even through those adversity and trials he can triumph in this moment,” she said.
Judi gaishkibos, Director of the Commission on Indian Affairs, tells the students they should take a lesson from Standing Bear.
“We need to try to honor and keep our word like Standing Bear did. Every day I try and think of that, when I get up in the morning and say ‘Uh. Got to get out there and do your work, go to school, y’know, go to work, whatever it is you have to do. And don’t take the easy way out. Day by day. Step by step. Standing Bear did that and went to court – first time ever we get to be recognized as human beings. Then he went back home to the Niobrara,” gaishkibos said.
The mural is due to be completed in time for the building to be rededicated in July.
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