WEBSITE OF TRIBE: http://omaha-nsn.gov/
1. Historical information about the culture
Around the year 1600, the environment the Omaha people settled in consisted of larger woodlands. The settlement was near the Ohio and Wabash rivers. At this time the tribe consisted of both the Omaha and Quapaw people. As the tribe migrated west, the two tribes split, and the Omaha people settled in areas near the Missouri River in northwestern Iowa and eastern Nebraska. The area of this settlement consisted of sandstone bluffs that are todaycovered with second-growth native timber. Additionally, there is an extensive fertile upland prairie that comes from the river. Furthermore, the area has many small streams and Logan Creek that bounds the west of the region. The region experienced variations in temperature and moisture.
In the summer and buffalo-hunting season they lived in tipis, which were easy to take down a relocate from village to village. In the winter they lived in earth lodges, which were houses that used the earth’s terrain for walls. After the United States made the Louisiana Purchase, there was a rise in different kinds of goods made by the Omaha people. Tools such as scissors and axes were developed and clothing such as top hats and buttons were made too. Women started changing their role to manufacturing goods more and farming because of the rise in new technology. Females were also in charge of taking care of the house and children. Additionally, they were in charge of gathering firewood and potable water. Furthermore, they were responsible for taking down and putting up the tipis, as well as maintaining the gardens. Men on the other hand took on more physical and strenuous duties. These duties included hunting, trapping, fishing, and defending the community. Animals that were being hunted included buffalo, deer, antelope, bear, smaller mammals, birds, fish, and crustaceans. Trading was very common among the Omaha tribe. They traded fur-bearing animal hides, bison robes and other bison products. To add on, the fertile land provided great conditions for growing and trading agricultural crops, especially corn. Other crops that were traded by the Omaha tribe included wheat and potatoes.
The Omaha people had deep cultural ties to the sky and earth. The tribe was separated into two groups, the Sky People and the Earth People, which was led by a different chief. Each group was divided into two moieties. Each moiety consisted of five clans called gente. The Sky People were responsible for the spiritual needs of the tribe and the Earth People were responsible for the physical welfare of the tribe. Additionally, the Omaha tribe would worship an ancient Sacred Pole, which was said to represent a person, or the body of a man. It was located in the center of the village inside a Sacred Tent. Only men who were members of the Holy Society could enter the tent. The pole symbolized a man that was both a provider and protector of his people. Ceremonies in the Omaha culture were very common. Significant changes to one’s life were celebrated with either the family-center or the public.
2. Colonial experience of the culture
The first treaty the Omaha people made with the United States was in 1815. It was called a “treaty of friendship and peace,” and the Omaha did not have to give up any of their land. In 1830 and 1836, the Omaha tribe, together with other tribes, entered into more treaties with the US government. The treaty in 1830 was the fourth Treaty of Prairie du Chien, which was negotiated between the United States and around 10 different tribes. In this treaty, the Omaha tribe ceded a large area of land in eastern Nebraska. In addition, each person in the Omaha tribe could be assigned a 640 acre of land by the president. The treaty of 1836 freed the US government of this promise and authorized the US to do whatever necessary with the land in order to keep a spirit of friendship alive between the Omaha tribe and the government.
On March 16, 1854, they entered into another treaty with the United States government which established a reservation for the Omaha tribe. They chose the land they wanted and it was approved approximately one year later by Franklin Pierce, the president at that time. That treaty ceded all their previously owned land west of the Missouri river and south of “where the Iowa river leaves the bluffs.” Unfortunately, in this treaty, the Omaha tribe lost a large amount of their hunting land, and only about 300,000 acres of land was left for the reservation (they had initially owned land equal to approximately one-quarter of the area of Nebraska). One of the agreements made between the Omaha and the US government in this treaty was for protection from the Sioux tribe as well as any other hostile tribes. The Omaha and the Sioux were frequently in war, and many of the Omaha people and their buffalo were killed by the Sioux. When the wars were started by the Sioux or other tribes, the Omaha would get the protection promised to them, but the government would not provide protection if the Omaha tribe started a war.
About ten years later, on March 6, 1865, the Omaha tribe sold the northern part of their reservation to the US. In this treaty, the Omaha tribe lost roughly half of the land they had at the time. However, the land sold did not include land on which the Omaha had made improvements or land which was being used for schools. The sold land was eventually given from the government to the Winnebago tribe, who moved to Nebraska from Minnesota. Over the next ten years (in 1872 and 1874), over 50,000 acres of reservation land was sold to the Winnebago tribe and the United States. In 1882, congress decided to give 160 acres of land to each family in the Omaha tribe. Five years later, the Severalty Act of 1887 was passed by Congress and people of the Omaha tribe were granted United States citizenship. This occurred twenty years after Nebraska became a state (1867).
3. Contemporary developments or issues
The current population of the Omaha has decreased to just over 5,000 people, 3,000 of whom reside on the Omaha Indian Reservation headquartered in Macy, Nebraska. With around 60% of the remaining population concentrated in the same area, it’s not hard to see that the Omaha tribe has had trouble expanding in current years. Being the home to such a high percentage of the tribe’s members, it is no question that the Reservation is the Omaha’s most predominant asset, leading them to focus their efforts towards protecting this land in all ways possible, and governing it in the most beneficial way. With this in mind, governing the implementation of certain laws or regulations set has raised some issues among the local community, especially between the Omaha and stores located in their territory which follow Federal laws and regulations.
One of their biggest current issues came in 2007, regarding the discrepancy between the laws set by the Omaha in the Reservation and stores that follow federal laws. In 2006, the Omaha tribe set notice that come January 1, 2007, merchants would have to pay the Omaha Tribe liquor licensing fees along with a 10% sales tax to continue to operate within the reservation. This ultimately led to federal lawsuits being filed by against the Omaha by liquor merchants protesting their obligation to pay this extra tax. This issue was disputed in court for years after. Issues of this nature have given and will continue to give the Omaha issues in more current years, making their ability to govern themselves and make their own laws a process more difficult.
Aside from issues relating to their ability to govern their Tribe and land through their own regulations, the Omaha have encountered a large struggle with keeping their once thriving culture and language alive. Today Omaha is considered to be an “endangered language” due to the lack of people learning it. There are said to be only 60 speakers of Omaha today, of which only 25 are considered to be fluent. Efforts are being made by some of these remaining speakers to revitalize the language and keep it from becoming extinct. The best and most helpful one of these efforts comes in the form of Omaha language courses being offered at the University of Nebraska, along with its Omaha Language Curriculum Development Project, that provides internet-based materials for learning the language. Other efforts, including the language being taught at the Umónhon Nation Public School, along with an Omaha Basic iPhone app that has been created, also continue to attempt to revitalize this language.
Despite all existing efforts to keep the culture of this Tribe alive, the Omaha face a definite challenge in their development.