When 12-year-old Claudia Archer received a cell phone call from her mother informing her that she had won an essay contest, her reaction was more bewilderment than triumph.
“I’m like, ‘What essay is this?’” she says. School was already out for the year and the Brownell-Talbot middle-schooler had written a lot of essays in her sixth-grade writer’s workshop class.
“My writing teacher, Mr. G.—Mr. Goetschkes—had us write an essay each week. And every now and again he threw in an essay contest, and one of them was the Standing Bear essay.”
Months had passed since the assignment, but Archer finally recognized her work: “I realized I wrote it and that I won! I was really excited, but it was a shocker.”
The contest was sponsored by the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and McDonald’s with the objective of generating awareness, especially among youth, of the many accomplishments of Ponca Chief Standing Bear. By contest guidelines for the middle school category, Archer was limited to 200 words and her essay had to demonstrate original thinking and her own opinion. Her final entry was, as she puts it, “short and sweet,” and Robert Goetschkes, her writer’s workshop teacher, agrees.
“The Standing Bear essay was one of those in-class, full-on writing process activities, so she had a lot of time to work on it and revise it, get feedback from some of her classmates, that sort of thing,”
Goetschkes, who is with Brownell-Talbot’s English department, says he actively seeks multiple writing competition opportunities for his students every year, and hopes that someday a master database will exist to increase participation.
“I have found that in all of these writing contests I’ve done that I get the same response: ‘I wish more teachers did this’. What I say is, ‘I wish more teachers knew about it’,” he says. “I think if even one student wins every year, it has an impact. I tell the kids that even if you don’t win you are operating at your best when you are competing.”
The four Chief Standing Bear essay contest winners (one in each age category: elementary school, middle school, high school, and college) received a $25 McDonald’s Arch Card and Kindle e-Reader, plus saw their essays appear on tray liners in McDonald’s restaurants throughout the state this summer. Archer and her fellow honorees attended a May reception at the Governor’s Mansion hosted by first lady Sally Ganem and were allowed to bring two guests; Archer chose her parents, Ed and Nuria.
“They’re proud of me and they were really excited for me,” she says.
“She’s a very hard worker, she dedicates a lot of time and is very patient,” Nuria Archer says. “And she has the biggest heart you’ve ever seen. Everybody tells me she’s way beyond her years.”
“There is a road in the hearts of all of us, hidden and seldom traveled.” — Chief Standing Bear
Chief Standing Bear was a great individual. He was born in 1829 and died in 1908. He became a great leader for the Ponca tribe. Sadly he went through the terrible death of his son, due to harsh weather and his burial became an adventure.
Ensuring his burial was in his homeland was important to him. In January 1879, Standing Bear and his followers abandoned the Indian Territory to accomplish it. On the way to their ancestral homeland, Standing Bear and his followers got captured and taken to Fort Omaha, Nebraska.
In the spring of 1879, a journalist interviewed him and published a story that grasped many of the public’s attention. Because of this, many lawyers tried to prevent Standing Bear from going back to Indian Territory.
It is said the story explained why the tribe was divided. The majority of the Southern Ponca went to the Indian Territory, but Chief Standing Bear and his followers returned to Nebraska and became the Northern Ponca. 88 years after his death, a tall bronze statute reminds us of this leader today.