In 1879 a court case involving Chief Standing Bull of the Ponca tribe came before a Federal court that demanded an answer to the question: Are Native Americans considered people by the U.S. Constitution.
In 1878, despite having two separate treaties with the U.S. Senate, the Ponca tribe were forcibly removed off their land by the U.S. Government. As a result of the sickness and starvation conditions, Chief Standing Bull’s only son died that winter. Before he died, his father promised him he would bury him in their traditional ceremonial burial grounds.
Chief Standing Bull and about 30 other members of the Ponca Tribe went on a three month journey to bury his son. They were detained by the U.S. Army 2 days short of their goal.
General George Crook took the Native Americans under guard but doubted the morality of his orders and informed several news stations and lawyers of the situation.
Chief Standing Bull filed for a writ of habeas corpus.
This was the first civil trial for a Native American in U.S. History.
During the trial, Chief Standing Bull was quotes as saying, “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man.”
Judge Elmer S. Dundy ruled that “an Indian is a person” within the meaning of habeas corpus, recognizing that an Indian is a “person” under the law and entitled to its rights and protection. He concluded “The right of expatriation is a natural, inherent and inalienable right and extends to the Indian as well as to the more fortunate white race.”