Just Another Way to Get Our
Land - Back payments and Chief of the Ponca.
The men who were the
leaders of the tribe were not of the old chiefs but had accepted the
democratic process of holding elections. The former traditions with the
chiefs or elders of their clan gave each band a representative and that
worked better without anyone being left out of benefits. This new
democratic process did not work as well because it left room for
disruption from anyone who was not included in one way or another or who
didn’t agree with some policy. Elections were inevitable though and were
necessary, since the tribe was weakened from being split early on with
some of the tribal heads returning to Nebraska. The elections satisfied a
need for the tribe and the elected men were strong from knowing what was
expected of them, even in this new government. The time would come when
the tribe would be called sovereign or a nation within a nation that could
act independently and without outside interference.
Velma was acquainted or
related with a number those present council members. There was Johnny
Williams who was a wise man dedicated to each and every tribal member. His
brother Parish served and was equally as intelligent with an interest in a
future for the children just as the early chiefs had been. They believed
in being like the eagle with a far seeing vision. Ed Pensoneau, Velma’s
blood brother, was painstakingly careful as a writer and that was a
contribution. Velma called Dana Knight her brother and they worked well
together. Later on, Leonard Big Goose helped Velma and she respected his
leadership. He had a way of pointing out what was real.
“When that roll was made up
it was just for a census. It never was meant to determine whether a person
was “Indian” or not, neither was it meant to dictate how much degree of
Ponca blood a person had to have to be eligible to be “on the roll.” He
spoke his truth quietly but anyone within earshot could certainly hear and
understand, what he was saying. His words were heavy with the reasoning of
rightness and it made sense, common sense. He was as much like the old
chiefs as could be. Quietly he spoke but his words struck true to their
target just as one of the old chiefs, Standing Bear, did when he said, “My
hand is not the color of yours but if I am cut, my blood the color of
There was a problem. As
with anyone, some of the people were not keeping their house payments
current. Of course, leaders knew their tribal members. Even though their
housing had been so bad it still served them without having to make
payments. These new houses, some felt should belong to them. After all,
they were on their land. The leaders wouldn’t push for catching up on back
H.U.D gave an ultimatum.
“Pay up or move out. We will and can give the housing to non-Indians.”
Well, this was a jarring
reality and those who were interested looked on with curiosity. How would
the leaders step up to this new challenge? Like the usual reservation
rumors this issue was all the gossip.
“I thought they weren’t
going to take our land?” Some commented. Others might say, “That’s the way
the government is, you know it, just another way to get our land! Still
someone else might wonder, “What’s our counsel going to do about this?”
Finally, a letter from
Leonard Big Goose, who was chairman at the time, went out to H.U.D. In
effect it was short and to the point.
“We are working with these
folks to help them, catch-up their payments. If you can wait on us,
please, do so. If not, and you still want the houses, let us know. We have
our bulldozers ready. The houses will be stacked in a pile at the edge of
That was the end of the
discussion and threats from H.U.D. Life went on in its peaceful way at the
reservation and sooner or later the payments were straightened out.
This was the way of the
chiefs of old and even though Leonard was elected, he still remembered how
they would have handled the situation. The strengths of Chief Red Leaf,
Oo-Hah-Shinga, (Little Cook), Yellow Buffalo, Standing Bear, White Eagle
and so many others had not been lost.
Velma was relieved for the
peaceful settlement and all this went into her report to O.I.O.