Published on May 31, 2012 by Amy
The Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, also known as the Ponca Nation, is one of two federally recognized tribes of Ponca people. The other Ponca tribe is the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. Traditionally, they speak the Omaha-Ponca language, part of the Souian language family.
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The Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma is headquartered in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Their tribal jurisdictional area includes parts of Kay and Noble counties. Of the 3,581 enrolled tribal members, 3000 live within the state of Oklahoma. Membership to the tribe requires a 1/8 minimum blood quantum.
The governing council of the Ponca Tribe is democratically elected for four-year terms. The current tribal administration includes:
The Ponca Indian Tribe operates its own housing authority and issues its own tribal vehicle tags. They own one casino, Blue Star Gaming and Casino in Ponca City. The estimated annual economic impact of the Ponca Tribe in 2011 was $1,964,321, down from $15 million in 2008.
The Ponca tribe separated from the Omaha tribe in the early 18th century. They settled in Nebraska and South Dakota. Smallpox and other introduced Eurasian diseases took a heavy toll of the tribe repeatedly in the 18th and 19th centuries, as they had no immunity. The more powerful Sioux encroached on their land base.
The Ponca never went to war with the United States. They signed their first peace treaty with the US in 1817. In the 1825 they signed a trade agreement. Treaties in 1858 and 1865 ceded lands. The 1860s and 1870s were a difficult time for the Ponca tribe, as the buffalo were disappearing, droughts destroyed crops, and warfare with the Sioux combined to threaten the Ponca with starvation. The US did not uphold their treaty obligations to the Ponca. They gave land reserved for the Ponca to the Sioux in 1868, as part of the Great Sioux Reservation. The government relocated the Ponca to Indian Territory in 1877.
The forced removal of the Ponca to Indian Territory was mismanaged; they arrived too late to plant crops, the government failed to provide them with adequate supplies, and their destination had chronic malaria. An estimated 158 Poncas died during the first year: almost a third of the entire tribe. Among them was the oldest son of Standing Bear, a Ponca chief, whose body he returned to Nebraska for burial in traditional lands. There he was arrested by the Army for having left the reservation, but he gained the sympathy of Brigadier General Crook. With help from prominent attorneys working pro bono, Standing Bear filed a habeas corpus suit challenging his arrest. The US District Court judge’s decision in Standing Bear v. Crook (1879) established the right of habeas corpus and the legal status as citizens under US law for Indian people.
White Eagle, a principal chief, settled on a 101,000-acre (410 km2) reservation in what would become Kay and Noble counties. He leased much of the land to the 101 Ranch for pasture (and later, oil development). In the 1890s missionaries and government agents tried to make the tribe abandon their traditional tribal dances and lifeways.
In 1892, under the Dawes Allotment Act, the US government registered the members of the tribe, and allocated individual plots of land to each household. It declared the remaining reservation land as “surplus” and sold it to European-American settlers. This resulted in a great loss of communal land for the tribe and its descendants. After oil was discovered on their land in 1911, its exploitation, together with mining of other resources, created environmental problems for the tribe.
Peyote religion was introduced in the 1910s. In 1918, two Poncas, Louis MacDonald and Frank Eagle, co-founded the Native American Church. After many Ponca served in World War I, returning Ponca veterans founded the American Legion chapter Buffalo Post 38. They revived traditional war dances, such as the heluska dance.
Under the 1936 Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, the tribe reorganized their government. They ratified their constitution in 1950 and became federally recognized. Tribal headquarters were established in White Eagle, located south of Ponca City.
Clyde Warrior, a Ponca, cofounded the National Indian Youth Council. He promoted self-determination and inspired many young Native activists during the 1960s and 1970s.