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The Ponca (Páⁿka iyé: Páⁿka or Ppáⁿkka ) are a Native American tribe of the Dhegian branch of the Siouan-language group. There are two federally recognized Ponca tribes: the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. Their traditions and historical accounts suggest they originated as a tribe east of the Mississippi River in the Ohio River valley area and migrated west for game and as a result of Iroquois wars.

Early history

Thomas Cry (Moni Chaki), Ponca, Nebraska, 1898
At first European contact, the Ponca lived around the mouth of the Niobrara River in northern Nebraskamarker. According to tradition, they moved there from an area east of the Mississippi just before Columbus' arrival in the Americas. Siouan-speaking tribes such as the Omahamarker, Osage, Quapaw and Kaw also have traditions of having migrated to the West from east of the Mississippi River. Iroquois' invasions from the north pushed them out of the Ohio River area. Scholars are not able to determine precisely when the Dhegian-Siouan tribes migrated west, but know the Iroquois also pushed tribes from the Ohio and West Virginia areas in the Beaver Wars.

The Ponca appear on a 1701 map by Pierre-Charles Le Sueur, who placed them along the Missourimarker. In 1789, fur trader Juan Baptiste Munier was given an exclusive license to trade with the Ponca at the mouth of the Niobrara River. He founded a trading post at its confluence with the Missouri and found about 800 Ponca residing there. Shortly after that, the tribe was hit by a devastating smallpox epidemic. In 1804, when they were visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, there were only about 200 Ponca. Later in the 19th century, their number rose to about 700. Unlike most other Plains Indians, the Ponca grew maize and kept vegetable gardens.

In 1817 the tribe signed a peace treaty with the United States . By a second treaty in 1825, they regulated trade and tried to minimize intertribal clashes on the Northern Plains. Their last successful buffalo hunt was in 1855.

In 1858, the Ponca signed a treaty by which they gave up parts of their land in return for protection and a permanent home on the Niobrara. In 1868, the lands of the Poncas were mistakenly included in the Great Sioux Reservation. The Poncas were plagued by raiding Sioux, who claimed the land as their own.


When Congress decided to remove several northern tribes to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahomamarker) in 1876, the Ponca were on the list. After inspecting the lands the US government offered for their new reservation and finding it unsuitable for agriculture, the Ponca chiefs decided against a move to the Indian Territory. Hence, when governmental officials came in early 1877 to move the Ponca to their new land, the chiefs refused, citing their earlier treaty. Most of the tribe refused and had to be moved by force. In their new location, the Ponca struggled with malaria, a shortage of food and the hot climate. One in four members died within the first year.

Standing Bear

Standing Bear
Chief Standing Bear was among those who had most vehemently protested the tribe's removal. When his eldest son, Bear Shield, lay on his deathbed, Standing Bear promised to have him buried on the tribe's ancestral lands. In order to carry out his promise, Standing Bear left the reservation in Oklahoma and traveled back toward the Ponca homelands. He was arrested for doing so without US government permission. In the "Standing Bear Trial", held in Omaha, Nebraskamarker, the US court established for the first time that native Americans are "persons within the meaning of the law" of the United States and that they have certain rights as a result. This was an important civil rights case.


In 1881, the US returned 26,236 acres (106 km²) of Knox County, Nebraskamarker to the Ponca, and about half the tribe moved back north from Indian Territory. The tribe continued to decline.

After World War II, the US government began a policy of terminating its relationship with tribes. In 1966, the US federal government terminated the tribe (then called the Northern Ponca) and distributed its land by allotment to members, taking away any surplus.In the 1970s, the tribe started efforts to reorganize to revive the cultural identity of its people and improve their welfare. First they sought state recognition, and then allied with state Congressional representatives to seek legislation for federal recognition. On October 31, 1990, the Ponca Restoration Bill was signed into law, and they were recognized as the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. They are now trying to rebuild a land base on their ancestral lands. They are the only federally recognized tribe in Nebraska without a reservation.

Today the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska has over 2500 enrolled members and is headquartered in Niobrara, Nebraskamarker.


After the 1877 forced relocation onto the Quapaw Reservation in Indian Territory, the tribe moved west to their own lands along the Arkansasmarker and Salt Fork River. The full-bloods formed a tipi village, while the mixed-bloods settled about Chikaskia River. During opposition by Ponca leadership, the US government began dismantling tribal government under the Curtis Act. In an attempt to encourage assimilation (and to allow Oklahoma to become a state), they allotted reservation lands to individual members under the Dawes Act in 1891 and 1892. Any land remaining after allotment was made available for sale to non-natives.

After Oklahoma achieved statehood, some remaining Ponca land was leased or sold to the 101 Ranch, where many Ponca people found employment. The 1911 discovery of oil on Ponca lands provided revenues but had mixed results. There were environmental disasters as oil refineries dumped waste directly into the Arkansas Rivermarker.

In 1918, two Ponca men, Frank Eagle and Louis McDonald, helped co-found the Native American Church.

In 1950 the tribe organized a new government under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. They adopted their tribal constitution on 20 September 1950.

Today the tribe is headquartered in White Eagle, Oklahomamarker. It conducts business from Ponca Citymarker. The Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma has over 4200 members.

Notable Ponca

See also


  1. Karr, Steven. A Brief History of the Ponca Tribe. The Official Website of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. (retrieved 8 August 2009)
  2. Louis F. Burns, "Osage" Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, retrieved 2 March 2009
  3. Willard H. Rollins, 'The Osage: An Ethnohistorical Study of Hegemony on the Prairie-Plains, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995, pp. 96-100, accessed 17 Nov 2009
  4. Mark Van de Logt, "Ponca", Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. 2009 (8 August 2009)
  5. "Constitution and By-laws of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma", National Tribal Justice Resource Center. (retrieved 8 August 2009)

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