Speaker Nancy Pelosi

U.S. House of Representatives

Pelosi Remarks at Congressional Statue Dedication Ceremony Honoring Ponca Chief Standing Bear of Nebraska

September 18, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Congressional Leadership and other Members of Congress for the Congressional statue dedication and unveiling ceremony in honor of Ponca Chief Standing Bear of Nebraska.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Good afternoon.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to the Capitol on this happy occasion.

As Speaker of the House, it is my privilege to welcome distinguished leaders of the Congress and honored guests from the State of Nebraska to the U.S. Capitol on this historic day.

Let us warmly welcome Chairman Larry Wright Jr., Steve Laravie Sr., Steve Laravie Jr. and members of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.  We are deeply honored by your presence.

[Applause]

On behalf of the House, I thank the many leaders whose relentless efforts have ensured that Chief Standing Bear has taken his rightful place in the Capitol and in our history books.

***

Speaker Pelosi.  In 1865, as America emerged from the bitter Civil War, Congress asked each state to send two statues of leaders who represented the best of their communities to stand in the U.S. Capitol.

They understood that during that time of division, our nation must be unified – remembering the words of our Founders: ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ out of many, one.

More than 150 years later, Statuary Hall is our pantheon of patriots, where our nation’s heroes are memorialized in marble and bronze. 

As Speaker, it has been my honor, working with many of you, to help ensure that the full story of America is told in these halls.  As I said last week during the 400-year observance of the first recorded arrival of enslaved [Africans] to America, ‘If we are going to improve the future, we must acknowledge the past.’

That is why, here in the Capitol, we dedicated statues of Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.  It is why we ensured that the suffragists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and again, Sojourner Truth, would stand alongside Washington and Jefferson in these halls.  It is why we have had so many others honored here, so that all who walk through these halls will know their stories and are part of that great American history.  

Today our nation takes another step forward in this journey, as we honor a man of extraordinary courage, perseverance and strength: Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe. 

With this statue, we honor a leader who sought to fulfill a deathbed promise to his son – that he ‘might live and die in peace, and be buried with his fathers’ – and forever righted a monumental injustice in our legal system and our nation.

With this statue, we honor all Native peoples, who met injustice and intolerance with dignity and determination. 

And with statue, we honor our responsibility to respect the spark of divinity that all possess, recalling the immortal words of Chief Standing Bear, now engraved in bronze here: ‘I am a man.  The same God made us both.’

Let us now – let this statue be a symbol of our commitment to righting the wrongs of the past and our ongoing pursuit of a more perfect union with liberty and justice for all.

And now, let us continue the program.

Thank you all – shortly, we will unveil the statue so you can see it for most of the program.  But, next, we will hear from our special guest.

Thank you.

[Applause]

You want me to unveil it right now?  [Laughter]

[Laughter]

Okay, I think that’s why the photographers are here.

[Laughter]

Is this now?  You’ve got everyone surrounding it?

Thank you, Chairman Larry Wright Jr., for that beautiful invocation, which gives us our statement of purpose today.

Today has been made possible by the relentless, persistent and dissatisfied work of so many leaders, over so many years.  Now, in recognition of their efforts, let me welcome to the stage for the unveiling of this statue of Chief Standing Bear: [Steve] Laravie Jr., Judi Gaiashkibos, Governor Peter Ricketts, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Senator Deb Fischer, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senator Roy Blunt.

There we go.

[Applause]

***

Speaker Pelosi.  Again, thank you all.  

Thank you, Senator Blunt, for sharing those words. 

It is a privilege to hear from leaders from all over our country – New York to Nebraska, California to communities in the heartland – express what this day means to them, and to their communities.

I especially want to also acknowledge that as we unveil this beautiful statue – and thank you, Benjamin Victor, for this beautiful statue and thank you, Mr. Laravie, for the beautiful singing of Chief Standing Bear’s song, today.

But, I also want to acknowledge that, as we gather here in this beautiful statue – in Statuary Hall – and welcome to the House side, to our Senators – I want to acknowledge, for the first time in American history, we have two Native American women serving in the Congress of the United States: Congresswoman Sharice Davids and Congresswoman Deb Haaland.

[Applause]

And wouldn’t Chief Standing Bear just love to know that Deb Haaland, as a Freshman, is the Chair of the Public Lands Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee, right from the start, and Sharice Davids is such an important leader in the Congress, right from the start.  Thank you for honoring us with your presence.  Thank you for the courage to run.  Thank you for being here, today.

The courageous story of Chief Standing Bear is one that resonates within all of us – you heard that again and again – rising above race, culture, geography and politics. 

Chief [Standing Bear] embodies the values that we most cherish, and which we have most, which have been most critical to forging progress in America: courage and conviction; dignity and determination; resistance and resilience.  And I would add persistence and resilience to that.

Indeed, the story of America is written in the actions of men and women, such as Chief Standing Bear, with the clear vision to see America as it should be and the clarion voices to demand it.

As Leader Schumer mentioned, we have to face the reality of what was, if we are going to improve what comes next.

Chief Standing Bear faced injustices beyond imagination: the injustice of being forced from his ancestral homeland at bayonet-point; the injustice of losing hundreds of members of his tribal family, including his son Bear Shield, to starvation and suffering because of the U.S. Government’s broken treaty promises; the injustice of detention and arrest for trying to take his son’s body home, when that same government refused to honor Native people’s civil rights, including the right to expatriation.

Yet, Chief Standing Bear met those indignities with dignity and with honor, standing before the Omaha District Court, as we heard, and demanded his God-given rights, saying, ‘I never committed any crime.  If I had, I would not stand here to make a defense.  I would suffer the punishment and make no complaint.’

We’ve heard today, many times over, the Chief’s beautiful statement about his being a man and that is engraved on the statue, for all – on the base of the statue – for all to see. 

Chief Standing Bear’s decision to make his defense was an act of courage that transformed America, ensuring that Native Americans were finally considered ‘persons within the meaning of the law.’  It seems hard for us to grasp the fact that that needed to be defined.

Imagine that: one father’s dignified defiance helping secure justice under the law for an entire people for generations to come. 

That process of securing justice remains an ongoing journey, one that we all have a responsibility to carry forth. 

And, I want to salute the people of Nebraska.  Thank you, Governor.  Thank you to the legislature of Nebraska for the decision that you made, with stiff competition from many, I’m sure, who competed for the honor.  But, you have brought such honor and dignity to the Capitol of the United States.  Thank you, Nebraska.  Thank you, Governor, for that – and that is an applause line.

[Applause]

Now, with this statue, we enshrine in bronze our promise to build the better, more just future of which Chief Standing Bear dreamed. 

And we display that promise proudly in the U.S. Capitol, so that thousands of people, whenever anyone comes through here, as Leader McCarthy mentioned, everyone who comes through here will see the statue and learn the story and be inspired and be challenged.  From every part of the world, people can bear witness to it.  From all over America, people can see it – every day, for generations to come – perhaps seven generations, at least, to come.

Thank you all for making this day so special for this – for the Congress – more importantly, for the United States of America.

God bless you all.  God bless America.  Thank you.