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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Dec. 14, 1984)
n.trsiiM froia psesite t'Ztt llzzvzr
! Ksr!za ta Cmslia ladlsa, returns to the
past la tribal cVers. Wli;ca Lycrj tocks
I Jt it!ck tich fcroks wfclle be stirred a
! pot cffeC"3 tecf thst WIS t3 1 5 f OTtd t
trciocsl drr.ee ktzr la &e dy. Deeds
tiznii before ta ecrth lcd?e
nlch he hopes wU renlaj the Oixaha
ptjle eft rrcsdtr time la tie!? tribe's
history. Na Knl&i ta Omaha cMcf, marks
Fhotcs by Dld Crcssisr
rhe traditions of the Osaha Indians are key
to their survival, tribal leaders say. The
tribe's values, the importance of family, its
jiguage, religion and ceremonies are the ties
it unite its people, the leaders say.
( Indians must regain a sense of themself and
r.eir past, says Ward Miller, chairman of the
jmaha Tribal Council. If the Omahas fail to do
lis, Miiler insists, they don't have the foundation
p solve their economic and social problems,
j Using culture and dignity to resolve the
mahas' economic woes and to stop or at least
low down their soda! destruction is a path the
jibe is beginning cTJy now to take. This decision
ould lead Omaha Indians into dead end. Or
torse, head them the wrong way.
1 But Omahas don't think they have anything to
o$e. It has to be better than what they have now,
j The unraveling of the threads of the Omaha
Culture has many in the tribe concerned.
I "There is no written history of the Omaha
Iribe, everything is verbal," says Eddie Cline, a
)9-year-cld member of the tribe. "Every elder in
Jhe village is a walking historian. If you want to
!earn some aspect of the tribe, then you listen to
Jie elders talking.
M "Hut tho vmmo Inritan npr.nlo have mhpr
. s litis w uns. ---------- ls iiuiii a &
t I i o r --r-"
ihings to do man listen to an oia taie aoout ineir
ribe. They don t care about their language or
traditions. Today, when an elder dies, he takes
part of our culture with him."
Interest in maintaining the Omaha heritage,
however, is not held solely by older Omaha
Dan Webster, 25, and a member of the tribe,
says it is the responsibility of his generation to
carry on the Omaha's traditions.
: "Ve have to make up our mind that we are
going to keep our culture because I see it going
out the door and if we don't grab a hold of it,
we're going to lose it," Webster says.
The Omaha Indian Reservation is 250 square
miles of rolling prairie and tree-lined creek beds.
It is bordered on the west by a pair of Chicago-St
Paul Railroad tracks. To the east is the Missouri
River which, according to treaties between
Omaha Indians and the U.S. government, the
tribe owns to mid-stream.
In early October the reservation is golden in
corn. But nearly 80 percent of the land belongs to
the white man. Omaha Indians own 14,000 acres.
The Omaha Tribe owns 15,000 acres. Indians
farm less than one-seventh of what they own. The
rest is leased.
The village of Macy, home for most Omaha
Indians, sits alone in the northern reaches of the
reservation. In the village, rows of one- and
two-story houses stand battered below the
surrounding bluffs. Except for color, the houses
are the same.
Macy shows other sips of deterioration.
Broken roads run past its buildings. A stray dog
pokes at some cans and paper that litter the
ditches trailing the roads.
There is a gas station in the village. Leaning on
some rusting cars, a few Omahas talk. Across the
street is a cafe, that has four stools before its
counter. Around the corner and up the street is
the brick tribal hall.
Lemuel Arnie Harlan, secretary of the
Omaha Tribal Council, says that after years
of king poor, Omaha Indians feel helpless.
The Omahas must end their living in a welfare
society, Ilarlan says, and again contribute to their
tribe and heritage.
Harlan says Omahas must utilize their land in
building an economic base. In pursuit of this
objective, a three-year prcasi recently has
been set up at the Nebraska Indian Community
College at Macy to train Omahss in agriculture.
Tribal leaders hope that through the program
and through federal government loans to buy
machinery, seed and other supplies, more Indians
will farm their land.
But currently there is no industry on the
reservation. Omahas must leave the tribe and
their culture and try to assimilate into the non
Indian world if they hope to improve their
ft I f 7
"Indians want to participate in the culture, but
they have to face up to economic reality," says
Ward Qine, a 31 -year-old member of the trite.
"We have to learn to go out in the white man's
structure and get a job. To me that was the
bluest obstacle that I had to and still am going
through now." "-
Like many Omahas, Cline left the reservation
at one time. But he came back for the reason
most of the others return off the reservation
it is not possible for an Omaha to be an Indian.
A graduate of anthropology from the Univer
sity of California-Berkeley, Hastings says the
pressure to assimilate and the resulting break
down of the Omahas' culture is rooted in the
When traders entered Nebraska in the early
1800s, they introduced new economic means
(the rifle, horse and tools) and social ways
(alcohol) that were accepted by the trite,
Hastings says. As nature and animals were swept
aside by the white man's progress, he says, the
Omahas' culture started to vanish because the
alignment the tribe had with nature was being
Indians want to participate in
tlie culture, but they have to
fbee up. to economic reality.
We have to learn to go out in
tSie white man's structure and
Thp Omaha Indians were not alone. Other
plains Indian tribes had to change their economic
and social ways to make room for the white man.
But while the altering of their cultures was at first
a sodal restructuring that the tribes could either
accept or resist, it later became something In
which they had no decision.
As late as the 1920s there were state and
federal laws restricting tribes and their language,
Hastings says. Indians were punished and some
times jailed, he says, for practicing traditions in
the villages or speaking their language in reserva
"It was a government policy which thought
that if you take the Indian out of the man, then
you civilize him," Hasting says. "And in that
progression of consistency that went on, the trite
for several generations looked at its culture with
Webster Robbins, a Cherokee Indian who is a
professor of education at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, says that despite attempts to
force the Indian Lito the white man's culture,
tribes hung onto bits and pieces of their heritage.
There is now a recognition, Robbins says, that
Indian culture, whatever is left of it, must be used
to help tribes maintain themselves.
During the last few years there has been an
effort among tribes to rebuild their cultures. The
movement has advanced slowly.
But Wallace Coffey, executive director of the
Nebraskan Indian Commission, says there has
been a strong resurgence of identity by Indians.
Lndians are starting to ask themselves, "Why
am I supposed to be proud of being Indian?" said
Coffey, a Comanche. To answer this question, he
says, Indians have to realize they must go back to
Hastings says the first step in this cultural
renaissance is discussing openly how Indians feel
about themselves and their traditions some
thing the Omaha Tribe finally has begun to do.
"We have to start admitting some things
are right and some things are wrong," Robbins
says. "And we can't be looking at the white man
saying, 'You guys did it all.' There has to be some
acceptance by the Indian that he did some of it,
too. The toughest decisions will be when some
body has to admit they're wrong or did it
Pn he collapse of the Indian family is a major
cause behind the erosion of tribal culture.
Where once there was a father and mother
teaching their children the tribe's language and
history are now, in many cases, a father and
Or, in other cases, no one at all.
Hastings says Omaha Indians must put the
family unit back together. Parents and other
community leaders must act as strong and
positive role models, he says, if younger Indians
are to have a better philosophy of themselves
and gain a greater respect for their heritage.
Eddie Cline remembers how the medicine man
once was a leader honored by the trite.
"It was back in the '30s, the dust bowl days,"
Cline says. "It didn't rain here for a long time.
There was an old man who had a lot of strong,
medicine. And the trite had their summer
"So here comes the old man out of a teepee
next to the arena. People were standing around
the teepee, and I went over there. And here was
this old man and he had a white sheet around
him. He said, 'Rain is coming soon. I don't want
you to be afraid. It wOJ be all right'
"He's telling us he is going to make it rain. And
the tribe gave him seme tobacco and he smoked
it and prayed. He had a strong, loud voice. The
:re standing there listening. It was like
he was tailing to God
"Pretty soon we see the clouds coming fast.
The thunder and the lightning. The old man had
the white sheet that had blood all over it from the
ceremony. And it rained."
Cline says there are no medicine men left in
the Omaha Trite.
In an attempt to keep the Omaha Indian's
traditions from permanently disappearing and in
an effort to bring the tribe closer to its heritage,
an authentic 1800 Omaha village is being built a
short distance from Macy.
The village is part of a reenactment of the
Omaha culture during that time. The tribe's life,
its work, language, songs and dances will be
depicted in an eight-segment program filmed
next summer by the Nebraska Educational Tele
vision Network for elementary curriculum.
Hastings says the entire Omaha Trite will be
involved in the project
In the early 1800s, the Omaha culture was at
its highest, Hastings says. Through the project,
Hastings says, he wants to bring the thinking of
today's Omaha Indians back to the era.
The village gives Omaha Indians the oppor
tunity to heal themselves, he says, because it
washes away the 180-odd years of bad times and
gives Omahas something positive to grasp.
After years of seeing its heritage fade, tribal
leaders say, the Omaha Indian Tribe is working to
preserve its past and build upon its future.
Omahas take this road knowing the stakes are
If rebuilding the tribe's culture succeeds in
creating a greater sense of dignity in Omaha
Indians, leaders say, they then may have the
motivation to solve some of their economic and
Omuhas have everything to gain in this
decision. On the Omaha Indian Reservation, it is
evident to them that decades of government
policies desired to help Omahas have not
On a hill overlooking the village of Macy is a
marker. In silver letters it reads: "Tnis was the
homeland of the Omaha Tribe long before
settlers came to the Great Plains . . . Today, the
Omaha people continue Jo live on their traditional
homeland where their ancestors farmed, hunted,
and are buried."
In the village below, the hollow beat of a
leather Indian dram, the rise and fall of the
drummers' voices, the dancing of the "warriors"
wearing long white and brown eagle feathers in
their black hair affirm the strength of the Omaha
This traditional ceremony also hints that the
dignity and pride of the Omaha Indian those
going against the wind or current has not
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