The Ponca are a Plains-Prairie Indian group who were located aboriginally in present-day southern South Dakota and northern Nebraska. Their name for themselves is "Ponka," the derivation of which is unknown. Along with the Kansa, Omaha, Osage, and Quapaw, they spoke a dialect of the Dhegiha language of the Siouan language family. They were culturally and linguistically most closely related to the Omaha and may have at one time been an Omaha band. Never a large group, they probably numbered about eight hundred at the time of contact. In 1877 they were removed to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). But public concern about the conditions of their removal led to a federal agreement resulting in about one-third of the group returning to their traditional land near Niobrara, Nebraska, in 1880. This Northern group is now largely assimilated into the neighboring White society and numbered about four hundred in 1980. The southern group in Oklahoma numbered about two thousand in 1980 and lives primarily on allotted land, where they maintain much of their traditional culture despite assimilation into the local economy.
Prior to removal, the Ponca were divided into two bands: the "Gray-blanket" band and the "Fish-smell" band. The traditional economy rested on a combination of hunting (bison were especially important), fishing, gathering, and horticulture (maize, beans, squash, tobacco). Four types of dwelling were used: earthlodges, tipis, wigwams, and elongated lodges. Traditionally, they were organized into four clans, each led by a chief with military, political, and religious authority. The Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma is today governed by elected officers and a committee. The traditional religion centered on the creator, Wakánda, and beliefs in the supernatural forces present in all things. The Peyote religion is still active among the Oklahoma Ponca.
Fletcher, Alice C, and Francis LaFlesche (1911). The Omaha Tribe. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, 27th Annual Report (1905-1906), 17-654. Washington, D.C.
Howard, James H. (1965). The Ponca Tribe. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin no. 195. Washington, D.C.