Nebraska: Ponca Reservation


The Usni (Cold) Ponca Tribe of Nebraska are a small tribe believed to have been part of the Omaha Tribe, and they have lived on the Central Plains since the earliest recorded history. The tribe’s probable size in 1780 is estimated at 800. By 1804, their numbers dwindled to around 200 mainly because of smallpox. During the 18th and 19th centuries, larger tribes and White settlers easily outnumbered the Ponca, forcing them to move constantly. Some accounts by Lewis and Clark show the explorers meeting the Ponca during the expedition’s westward journey in 1804. 

History of the Reservation: Treaties with the government in 1858 promised the Ponca their traditional lands. However, with the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1877, the Ponca were forcibly moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Disease and starvation plagued the Ponca during the forced march, killing almost one-third of the tribe. Unable to adjust to the climate, the Ponca did not like their new reservation and asked to be returned to their original land, but the U.S. government denied the request.  

When Chief Standing Bear’s son died, he and his band began a journey back to Nebraska for the burial. They were stopped by federal troops and arrested for leaving Oklahoma, but Chief Standing Bear eventually led his people back to their Nebraska homelands. In fact, Chief Standing Bear was directly responsible for the May 12, 1879, ruling handed down by presiding Judge Dundy that “Indians are ‘persons’ within the meaning of the laws of the United States” and subject to the same Constitutional protections as whites. 

In 1934, there were 392 Ponca, increasing to 1,222 in Nebraska and Oklahoma by 1937. The U.S. government terminated the tribe in 1966, removing Poncas from tribal rolls and dissolving their federal trust land. By 1990, the Ponca Restoration Act finally regranted federal recognition to the Ponca, but they were not allowed to establish a reservation. The Ponca have managed to acquire a land base of their own in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota, which includes one 50,000 acre site in Norfolk, Nebraska, for their youth, diabetes, social services programs and a dorm that generates tribal income. 

The Ponca relied on hunting, fishing, gathering and horticulture for subsistence. Hunters gained high prestige in Ponca culture, and buffalo hunts called Wahnisa were sacred since the people depended on the animal for food, supplies and spiritual purposes. 

Life on the Reservation: Today, the population on Ponca trust lands is around 4,200 people with 3,500 people enrolled in the tribe. The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska is one of the most successful tribes in Indian Country when it comes to effective lobbying and passage of favorable legislation and administrative policies. Headquartered in Niobrara, Nebraska, the tribe offers a broad range of health, social, educational and cultural services. Agriculture and tourism drive the economy; the area has plentiful hunting and fishing areas. The tribe also operates a successful casino and resort motel. PWNA serves the Ponca in Winnebago, where the average annual household income is $30,000, about 17% of the labor force is unemployed, and the poverty rate is 42%.  

Ponca on the map: Eastern Nebraska 


Population, Land Size, History, Enrollment, Culture and 

1934 Population 

Income, Poverty, Unemployment based on Winnebago: and and  

General Info and