On March 11, 2019, Joe Starita, a professor at the University of Nebraska, came to Winnebago as a guest to speak to our students. Mr. Starita is a celebrated and accomplished author of several books about Native Americans, including The Dull Knives of Pine Ridge, Susan LaFlesche-A Warrior of the People, and I am a Man, which is the story of legendary Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca.
Professor Starita spoke extensively about the stories of both LaFleshe, the first Native American doctor and a member of the Omaha Tribe, and Standing Bear, famous for his journey and his groundbreaking trial in Omaha. He painted a vivid picture of the obstacles that must have confronted LaFlesche: sexism, racism, ethnocentric 19th century attitudes, and cultural divides that made her accomplishment of graduating first in her medical school even more significant. Starita told the story in a powerful manner, emphasizing the fact that, instead of staying out East and living a life in “society,” she chose, upon her graduation, to return to the reservation and work among her people until she literally worked herself to death.
His account of Standing Bear was no less important, and included a description of the death of Standing Bear’s son, Bear Shield. After relocation to Oklahoma from their homelands at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri river, Bear Heels died of malaria. His dying wish was that his father return his remains to Northern Nebraska and bury him among his ancestors. Standing Bear then walked over 500 miles with his son’s remains, beginning in January and ending in late March of 1878. Standing Bear’s journey ended in a courtroom, where a judge recognized, rather ironically, that Native Americans were “persons under the law.”
Mr. Starita is also the founder and administrator of the Chief Standing Bear Journey for Justice Scholarship, which a Winnebago Student has won each of the past 3 years. Applications for this scholarship can be picked up in the counseling room at Winnebago High School.