Christine Lesiak’s documentary provides an overview of a tragic chapter in U.S. history that culminated in a landmark civil rights court case. Standing Bear was a chief of the Ponca Indian tribe in Nebraska. In 1877, the federal government violated a treaty with the tribe and forcibly relocated them to Oklahoma, then known as “Indian Territory.” Many Ponca tribal members either died en route or in their inhospitable new surroundings, including Standing Bear’s son.
When the chief and a small number of tribal members sought to return to Nebraska to bury the young dead man, they were arrested by the military. However, Gen. George Crook was sympathetic to the tribe’s plight and tipped off an Omaha newspaper to their story. Crook also enabled the process that brought Standing Bear case to an unprecedented U.S. District Court case, which provided the first significant affirmation of the rights of native people under U.S. law.
This handsomely produced documentary provides a wealth of rare photographs and oral histories that details Standing Bear’s extraordinary odyssey and his impact on Indian civil rights. And assuming that most Americans have never heard of Standing Bear or the groundbreaking legal action that he initiated, this excellent film will provide an invaluable educational lesson.
In view of its contents and presentation, “Standing Bear’s Footsteps” is clearly one of the most important and impressive nonfiction films of the year.