Standing Bear High School students learn lessons of unity, acceptance

Lincoln Public Schools students became more familiar with Native American culture this spring after visiting with a family descendant of Chief Standing Bear.
Greg Victors taught Standing Bear High School students about Native American history and traditions during a special visit to campus. Victors, a descendant of Standing Bear’s brother, spoke with Native American students and staff before touring all three levels of the newest LPS high school. He then performed time-honored dances while wearing Ponca regalia at an all-school assembly.
Standing Bear ninth grade student Gabriella is a member of the Lakota Sioux Tribe. She said it was fun listening to Victors talk about his family heritage during a lunchtime meeting. She was one of three Native American students who later guided him on the school tour.
“I liked it,” Gabriella said. “It’s just a different feeling talking to another person who’s had the same type of experiences. Getting to make that connection was nice.”
Victors said he was overcome with emotion when he arrived at school and saw Standing Bear’s name on the building. He has spread knowledge of Native American culture across the world by performing authentic dances at educational forums. His great-grandfather, Big Snake, was Standing Bear’s brother and served as military leader of the Ponca Tribe.
“Pulling up and seeing the school say Standing Bear, it just touched my heart,” Victors said. “It made me feel good. In my mind, I said, ‘I’m home, Grandpa, I’m home.’ I’m happy our heritage is still connected.”
Standing Bear was one of the first civil rights leaders in the United States. He and other Ponca were forced to move from their homeland in northeast Nebraska to an Oklahoma reservation in 1878, and his 16-year-old son died there that year. The United States Army arrested Standing Bear after he returned to Nebraska to bury his son at the place of his birth.
Standing Bear and his attorneys appealed his arrest in federal court, and Judge Elmer Dundy ruled in their favor in May 1879. Dundy said Native Americans were persons under the law and were free to enjoy the rights of every other person.
Sue Cassata has helped share this important story as Standing Bear's principal. She first met Ponca leaders last year to work on ways to spread knowledge about the tribe’s culture, history and traditions. She told Victors his trip to Lincoln was a major moment for the Standing Bear school community.
“How do we continue to build on this to create an opportunity for our students to learn in an authentic manner things we’re trying to do in our classrooms, in our library, in our media centers, in our advisement periods?” Cassata told Victors. “To talk about not only the legacy and history of the Ponca, but also Standing Bear and what he represents to the Ponca and the entire nation? It’s something we’re definitely working on.”
Victors said he was impressed with the care and concern he heard from Cassata.
“I think the important thing is you have the conscious mind, right off the bat, to represent in a respectful manner,” Victors said. “It’s already like you’re holding the culture in a high regard. That alone speaks volumes.”
Gabriella said she has also noticed those efforts. She grew up on a reservation and has traveled across the country due to her mom’s job as a nurse. She said she has felt welcomed and accepted in Standing Bear school’s hallways.
“I’ve been to a lot of schools and met a lot of people,” Gabriella said. “In some schools, it’s been a little harder to get connected, but this one makes me feel a lot better. The last school I went to wasn’t very connected to the Native American culture. It had a Native American group, but it wasn’t very connected to the culture. Here it’s a lot better. I’m meeting more people and doing more things here.”
Victors smiled as he talked to Gabriella, Standing Bear sophomore Marley and Moore Middle School seventh grader Quincey on the tour. He admired a sculpture of Standing Bear in the library, spoke with students in a physical education class and took photos next to the school logo in several spots.
Victors then spoke about his heritage and family story to students in the auditorium. He performed a Show Dance that Ponca scouts used when looking for buffalo herds. More than 20 students later joined him on stage for a Snake Dance, which Ponca used to prepare areas for future ceremonies.
Cassata said it was essential to set a positive standard of cultural awareness for students and staff in the school’s first year.
“The idea is that after we’re no longer here, because we’re all going to age out of our roles, is that the pattern of behavior is already in place,” Cassata said. “Whoever comes next knows that this is the relationship we have and this is the importance of this.”
Victors said he was honored to see Standing Bear’s name serve as a beacon of hope and unity for people in Nebraska.
“I’m just so proud that it’s used in a dignified way,” Victors said. “It’s a place of education, a home of education. What better way to honor him?”

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Published: May 14, 2024, Updated: May 15, 2024

Greg Victors stands next to a statue of Chief Standing Bear during a visit to Standing Bear High School this spring. Victors is a descendant of Chief Standing Bear's family and has performed Native American dances around the world for many years. He told students and staff he was appreciative of the care and concern they have shown for Native American culture and traditions at school.