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Ponca Tribe of Nebraska

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska is the name used to describe the Northern Ponca Tribe after the Tribe was officially restored in 1990. The Poncas were originally a part of the Omaha Tribe which separated and lived along a branch of the Red River near Lake Winnipeg and later relocated to the west bank of the Missouri River in the early 1700’s. In what has been described as an inexplicable and almost criminal blunder the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty transferred Ponca reservation land to the Sioux erroneously. Without reservation land the Ponca’s were forced by the United States Government to march to central Oklahoma in the spring of 1877. This journey is known as the Ponca “Trail of Tears” as one third of their members died of disease, starvation and exposure. In 1881, a portion of their land in Nebraska was returned however, after such a terrible journey many Poncas remained in Oklahoma. This segmented the Tribe into two groups later known as the Northern and Southern Ponca. In 1962, the Northern Ponca lost their status as a federally recognized Tribe of Indians which caused all Tribal holdings and land to be dissolved.

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska is structurally unlike any other Tribe in Nebraska and is similarly unique from nearly every other Tribe in the nation. This uniqueness has made the Tribe embark upon a vigorous program of educating and lobbying state and federal legislator officials to ensure that its membership receive all the benefits and programs that the status as a federally recognized Tribe of Indians implies. The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska is one of the most successful Tribes in Indian Country when it comes to effective lobbying and passage of favorable legislations and administrative policies.

The Tribe’s Legislative prowess developed in the days before actual the restoration. Even though Congress recognized that termination was a failed policy, it required that each terminated tribe bear the burden of individually petitioning for the reversal of that status. Congress established six Administrative Criteria that all terminated Tribes had to satisfy for restoration. The Northern Ponca Restoration Committee was founded for this purpose in 1986/1987. Nearly all of the terminated Tribes had been restored by this time, except the Northern Poncas. The experiences of restored tribes in Oregon suggested the value of securing state recognition from the Nebraska Unicameral before approaching the US Congress. In 1988, the Tribe successfully lobbied the Nebraska Unicameral to grant their “state recognition” and secured an endorsement to support a quest to become a federally recognized Tribe. Support was also sought, and granted, by various local and Tribal Governments, as well as Indian non-profit organizations.

By 1989, the Northern Ponca Restoration Committee drafted language for Federal Restoration of the Northern Ponca Tribe. The first challenge was to secure a member of the Nebraska Congression to sponsor the legislation. Later on, in 1989, Senator J. James Exon and Senator Bob Kerry agreed to introduce and sponsor the “Ponca Restoration Act” in the United States Senate. Achieving this same support in the House of Representatives proved to be much more difficult. In fact, the original Ponca Restoration Act was opposed by the Tribe’s “home” district representative. There was a concern that the Poncas would one day choose to re-establish a reservation in northeastern Nebraska. Once language was added to the bill to specifically deny the Ponca Tribe the ability to establish a reservation the bill passed unanimously. The process was completed on October 31, 1990, when then President George Herbert Walker Bush signed the Ponca Restoration Act into law.