Omaha



ETHNONYM: Maha

The Omaha are a Plains-Prairie Indian group who were located aboriginally in the upper Missouri Valley, between the Platte and Big Sioux rivers, in the present-day states of Nebraska and Iowa. Along with the Kansa, Osage, Ponca, and Quapaw, they spoke dialects of the Dhegiha language of the Siouan language family. They were culturally and linguistically most closely related to the Ponca. They probably numbered about three thousand at the time of contact. According to their tradition, the ancestors of the contemporary five Dhegiha-speaking groups originally migrated from the Southeast, with the Quapaw going downstream at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and the four other groups going north. All then eventually settled in the territories they occupied at contact. Beginning with a severe population loss in a smallpox epidemic in 1802, the Omaha were in sustained contact with Whites. In 1854 they ceded their land to the Federal government and in 1855 were placed on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska. Ten years later the northern section of the reservation was sold to the Winnebago for their reservation. Then and now the Omaha and Winnebago have enjoyed friendly relations. There are currently about three thousand Omaha in Nebraska.

The Omaha occupy a place of considerable importance in cultural anthropology, as their systems of patrilineal Descent, kin terms, and alliances have often been used as models for other such systems in cultures around the world.

The traditional Omaha culture was a mix of Midwest and Plains American Indian cultural patterns. Their settlements were earthlodge villages and in the warmer months tipis, where they lived while hunting bison on the plains. They also gathered food and grew maize, squash, and beans. Omaha Society was divided into two divisions, five patrilineal clans, and a number of warrior and religious societies. Tribal unity was symbolized by a sacred pole, with governance resting with a council of seven chiefs. The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is today governed by an elected council of seven members, officers, and a committee. The traditional religion centered on the creator, Wakonda, and on dreams and visions.


Bibliography

Barnes, R. H. (1984). Two Crows Denies It: A History of Controversy in Omaha Sociology. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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.

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