Heard on the Hill

Chief Standing Bear statue welcomed in Capitol, replacing William Jennings Bryan

McCarthy: ‘as the tours are given, I promise you: you will stop here’

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., speaks during a ceremony unveiling a statue of Chief Standing Bear, a Native American civil rights icon from Nebraska. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The prominent placement of Nebraska’s new statue of the legendary Chief Standing Bear in Statuary Hall was quite intentional.

So said Sen. Roy Blunt at an unveiling ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. The Missouri senator was introduced as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, but it was in one of his other capacities that he had shown Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., where he thought the statue should be positioned.

[Johnny Cash is replacing one of the Capitol’s Civil War statues]

“One of my other jobs here, I chair a committee that’s the Joint Committee on the Library, which doesn’t sound like it would be a big deal but it’s the oldest joint committee in the Congress, and it’s the committee assigned with the responsibility to protect our treasures,” Blunt said.

Blunt said that he and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, who used to be chairman of the committees overseeing internal functions of the Capitol, have long been involved in the approval process. 

“I don’t think we had an idea of the dominating character that this statue would reflect, and it does exactly that,” Blunt said. “In 1937, Nebraska decided that William Jennings Bryan would be one of its two statues. In 2000, the Congress decided you know there’s been enough history between 1864 and now it might be a good idea to let the states to have another shot at this.”

Several statues have been replaced in recent years, through a lengthy process that is highlighted by action by state legislatures. Nebraska is in the process of replacing both statues. A statue honoring the American writer Willa Cather will also be joining the collection.

“The courageous story of Chief Standing Bear is one that resonates within all of us. You hear that again and again,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said at the unveiling. “Rising above race, culture, geography and politics, the Chief embodies the values that we most cherish and which ... have been most critical to forging progress in America.”

Chief Standing Bear became the first to successfully argue that Native Americans should be considered people under federal law in federal court, and Blunt said he considered the addition of the Standing Bear statue to be particularly significant.

“This is an important moment today. Congressman [Jeff] Fortenberry well described William Jennings Bryan, a three-time nominee for president, the secretary of state, but there are many statues here that tell a story similar to that,” Blunt said. “None exactly the same, but these stories are told in many ways. There aren’t statues that tell more about all of who we are.”

UNITED STATES - MARCH 27: A statue of William Jennings Bryan is seen in the Capitol's Statuary Hall on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The statue of Chief Standing Bear is replacing the statue of William Jennings Bryan, which had long been prominently displayed in Statuary Hall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sculptor Benjamin Victor, an artist-in-residence at Boise State University, was recognized at the ceremony as well by the congressman from his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif.

“Benjamin has not been introduced today, but Benjamin sits right over here. He’s a special man,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said. “He’s created — this is his third statue that sits in this hall. He was the youngest sculptor to ever have one, and he’s the only living sculptor with the most.”

Victor has also sculpted statues representing Iowa and Nevada.

“As you walk through here, and as the tours are given, I promise you: you will stop here, because you will look at that hand, you’ll look at that face, you’ll look at that skin tone and wonder why does he sit in this hall, what is the story behind Chief Standing Bear,” McCarthy said.

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