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Velma's Work
Valiantly Velma - Page 19

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 yours.”

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 payments.

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 the reservation!”

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.

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