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ETHNONYMS: The descriptive name Omaha (umónhon, "against the current" or "upstream") was used before 1541. It conveys the oral histories of eighteenth-century migrations and separations from other groups (Osage, Quapaw, Kansa) in which the Omaha moved up the Mississippi River drainage basin. Some early documents use the term Maha. Since the 1990s there have emerged multiple spellings of the name in the Native American language community (Umonhon, Umonha, Umaha). In the 1900s, linguists used the term Cegiha (Dhégiha, or Thégiha, "on this side") when referring to the Omaha, but the Omaha do not.


Identification and Location. The Omaha are headquartered in and around the northeastern Nebraska town of Macy on a portion of their aboriginal lands retained under an 1854 treaty. In the 1990s greatly reduced reservation lands still encompassed portions of Thurston, Cuming, and Burt counties in Nebraska and Monona County in Iowa. Omaha lands include the arable Missouri River bottom to the east bordered by steep sandstone bluffs covered with dense second-growth native timber on the Nebraska side of the river. Fertile rolling upland prairie extends from the river, is crossed by several smaller streams, and is bounded by Logan Creek on the west. This region is subject to wide variations in temperature and moisture.

Demography. Records just before 1800 indicate an Omaha population of over two thousand. A smallpox epidemic in 1800-1801 reduced that number by more than half, but a high birth rate and productive subsistence practices permitted a return to the earlier figure by the 1820s. The Omaha experienced years of displacement and famine that reduced their numbers to under eight hundred by the 1850s. Indian agent records indicate a relatively steady population increase since the latter half of the nineteenth century in spite of intermittent epidemics. In 1994 the Omaha Tribe reported an enrolled population of over seven thousand. Well over half the enrolled members live off-reservation in neighboring urban areas. Issues regarding minimum requirements of Omaha blood for enrollment and the status of nonenrolled Omahas are hotly debated.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Omaha language is related, with increasing distance, to the Ponca, Osage, Kansa, and Quapaw languages. Linguists view Omaha and Ponca as dialects of the same language. Most Omahas see their language as separate from the politically distinct Northern and Southern Ponca. Collectively, these five languages make up the Dhegiha subgroup of the Mississippi Valley branch of the Siouan language family. In 1994 the Omaha Tribe reported that less than 1 percent (seventy) of the enrolled members were fluent speakers. Since the 1970s tribal government and educational institutions have been using various versions of a 1911 orthography to produce some written materials.

History and Cultural Relations

Omaha oral traditions acknowledge a migration to the Great Plains from the east. Archaeological evidence generally points to the Ohio River Valley region as a probable point of origin. Colonial European documents noted that the Omaha were in southwestern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa by the 1670s. They arrived at the Missouri River by 1714. For a time the Omaha dominated the Missouri River fur trade and had relations with French, Spanish, British, and later American traders. Introduced diseases and encroachment by hostile tribal groups from the north drove the Omaha to the mouth of the Platte River in the 1840s. The 1854 treaty established the current reservation while removing all other lands. Northern portions of the reservation were sold to the Winnebago in 1865 and 1874. The Omaha were immediately subjected to American colonial pressures for assimilation on the reservation that intervened in all aspects of their culture and society. The Omaha were the first U.S. tribe to participate in land allotment. They have experienced land loss, boarding schools, and Christianization. In 1936 the Omaha voted to accept political reorganization under the Indian Reorganization Act, ending the role of the traditional Council of Seven. The Omaha avoided termination of their sovereign nation status by federal policy makers in the 1950s and have maintained a heritage of peace with non-Indians. While contending with uninterrupted assimilation pressures in the twentieth century, the Omaha continued to be significant participants in issues of tribal sovereignty, economic development through casino gaming, negotiations over the repatriation of human remains and grave goods, and the maintenance of their historically recognized form of the Hethúshka war dance.


The Omaha are known to have occupied sites in Minnesota and South Dakota before moving into the Nebraska region. The most prominent Omaha village was Tónwontongathon (Big Village) on Omaha Creek in Dakota County, Nebraska. Established in 1775, it was deserted and reoccupied several times because of disease and enemy attacks until its final abandonment in 1845. When the Omaha returned to the area on the newly formed reservation in 1855, they divided into three villages: Win-dja'-ge in the north, dubbed the "Make-Believe White Men" village; the largest village, Biku-de, where Macy now stands; and Jan-(th)ca'-te on Woods Creek. Oral histories recount that the Omaha learned about the earth lodge from the Ankara or the Pawnee. While they lived in the eastern woodlands the Omaha had used barkcovered houses. Earth lodges up to 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter were built for village use and often were arranged in accordance with matrilocal residence patterns. The buffalo hide tipi was employed during bison hunts and erected in association with patrilineal clan patterns. By the early twentieth century earth lodges had given way to mill-cut lumber houses based on the floor plans of white settlers in the area. Tipi covers began to be made of cotton canvas material and then diminished in use. By the end of the twentieth century tipis were used only by the Native American Church for worship services and by a handful of community members at the annual August powwow. Most Omaha at Macy reside in modern housing projects built and managed by the tribe. Other tribal members rent or own houses, apartments, or mobile homes in the surrounding countryside and in non-Indian towns. A general shortage of affordable housing on the reservation was a chronic problem in the latter half of the twentieth century.


Subsistence. Prereservation Omaha developed an annual cycle of spring planting, summer hunting, fall harvesting, and winter hunting. Females tended gardens containing several varieties of maize, beans, and squash. They also exploited a wide range of native plants for food and medicines. The tribe participated in annual summer and winter communal buffalo hunts on the western Great Plains. The ceremonial and economic significance of the buffalo overshadowed a critical dependence on deer, antelope, bear, smaller mammals, birds, fish, and crustaceans. The Omaha were active participants in the fur trade until its general collapse at the end of the nineteenth century. In the early reservation period many Omaha were successful farmers, readily adopting American seeds and agricultural techniques to produce annual surpluses. With the loss of land ownership after allotment many Omaha began leasing their dwindling land base and shifted to a wage labor economy. The postreorganization tribal government, together with the local public school district, provides most of the jobs in an otherwise economically depressed rural agricultural area.

Commercial Activities. Northeastern Nebraska remains primarily an agricultural district. Most of the remaining Omaha lands consist of heavily timbered but otherwise nonarable Missouri River bluffs with limited economic development potential. The Omaha Tribe runs a farming operation on the Nebraska side of the river. A small casino was established on the Iowa side in the 1990s; competition from surrounding casinos has reduced the profitability of this venture. Other economic development ideas that have been considered or tried since the 1970s have included an ethanol plant, a classic car business, a cigarette manufacturing plant, a farm equipment manufacturing plant, a camping area, and a convenience store/gasoline station, but most have not succeeded.

Industrial Arts. Early reservation era ceremonial and utilitarian arts that were practiced before the early 1900s but have disappeared include woven rush mats, painted rawhide containers, wooden burl bowls, buffalo horn spoons, canvas or hide tepee covers, bows and arrows, beadwork techniques requiring the use of a heddle, finger-woven sashes, and bags. At the end of the twentieth century a significant proportion of the Omaha participated in ceremonial culture by attending hand games, war dances, gourd dances, Native American Church meetings, funerals, sweat lodges, and the recently adopted sun dance. Most participants rely on a very few community members to fabricate the dance regalia, ceremonial objects, and traditional giveaway objects needed for these activities. While many community members can produce common beadwork items (belts, hair barrettes, moccasins), fewer individuals create the more technically challenging bead-work items (applique breechcloths and blankets, net woven feather fan and gourd rattle handles, diagonal hair pendants), feather work (dance bustles, fans), ribbon work (dance skirt panels, shawls), cloth work (men's ribbon shirts, women's cloth dresses, cradle board straps), woodwork (feather boxes, mirror boards, pipe stems, flutes), hide work (barrel-sized powwow drums, leather clothing, rawhide containers), stone work (pipe bowls), and quill work (pipe stems, pendants). The Omaha continue to innovate and borrow from the surrounding cultures.

Trade. The Omaha provided fur-bearing animal hides, bison robes and other bison products, agricultural products (primarily corn), and horses to the fur trade in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. During the early reservation era the trade in bison products declined, but agricultural products such as corn, wheat, and potatoes were traded to whites and neighboring tribes. The Omaha were noted for their high-quality horses through the early 1900s. With the loss of land and changing wage labor practices, the tribe produced only small quantities of agricultural products from a tribal farm for the market in the 1990s. Occasionally the tribe has sold timber from tribal lands, primarily for utility-type lumber production. A tobacco finishing plant produced packaged cigarettes in the late 1990s. A few individuals maintain private gardens from which small, sporadic crops of dried corn and hominy are produced for sale, trade, or gift giving in an informal market. Dance regalia and other ceremonial paraphernalia are produced in limited quantities for sale, trade, or gift giving.

Division of Labor. Before the 1850s the Omaha divided much of their labor along gender and age lines. Females were responsible for all child and home care, including collecting firewood, hauling potable water, moving and maintaining tepees, and building and maintaining earth lodges. They developed and maintained gardens and gathered plant materials for home use. They shared these duties with their female kin and offspring. The result was that the tipi, the earth lodge, and the products of the garden were the property of women. The husband and other male kin would assist in some of the heavier duties related to earth lodge construction and gardening. Participation in the fur trade placed extra burdens on females to prepare furs and hides for the market. Males hunted, trapped, fished, and defended the community. Political organization and ceremonial duties were the responsibility of men, although the completion of such duties often relied on the labor and cooperation of wives and female kin. Young boys herded horses and hunted small game. Young girls provided childcare to younger siblings and assisted their female kin in other tasks. The assimilation pressures of the reservation have removed many hunting and defensive warfare duties from the men. Ceremonial and political positions are still filled principally by men. And primary female roles related to home and childcare have not changed. Since World War II women have entered the wage labor economy by taking jobs in all areas of the community. Some women have entered the political arena and served on the tribal council. Beyond gender and age, some ceremonial duties remain fixed according to clan membership.

Land Tenure. Garden plots and earth lodge sites were generally the property of the wife and her sisters and daughters. The tribe collectively laid claim to the lands upon which its members routinely hunted. Communally held reservation lands were allotted to individuals beginning in 1871 and continuing through the early 1900s. Surplus communal lands were sold to outsiders. Lacking funds to develop their newly acquired farmsteads, many Omaha resorted to leasing their lands to neighboring whites. Much of the land is in federal trust status, and so it cannot be used as collateral for development loans. The bulk of Omaha land has been sold or lost to outsiders. The economic options available for the remaining lands have often been diminished after the death of the original and succeeding owners. Without estate planning, many allotments pass into undivided ownership among increasing numbers of patrilineal and/or matrilineal heirs. As a result the land remains leased to outsiders, the original allotment house often stands empty, and the heirs reside in tribally owned housing in Macy. The tribal government is developing land management programs that include the protection of natural resources such as game, water, and soil.


Kin Groups and Descent. There are ten major clans, many of which are further divided into smaller discrete subclans. Collectively, the clans are visualized as a circular encampment called the Húthuga, which symbolizes the cosmos. The clans are equally divided along an east-west axis into a moiety system often described as consisting of northern, male sky clans and southern, female earth clans. Duties, rights, taboos, and personal names are governed by the clan. Membership is ideally patrilineal but increasingly includes matrilineal trends in order to incorporate children produced by non-Omaha fathers. The role of the clan has atrophied in some families but remains a strong symbol throughout the community.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship follows a bifurcate merging pattern. Cross cousins are referred to as "Aunt" and "Uncle." As generational distance increases, these terms are often modified to "Little Aunt" and "Little Uncle." Parallel cousins in the first generation are referred to as "Brother" and "Sister." The traditional Omaha kinship system is used as a model for one of the major kinship terminology classification systems for cousin terms. The imposition of the Euro-American descent model has created a mixture of surname options and kinship patterns, including the acceptance of the personal address "Cousin." The public and private use of correct kin terms, although increasingly rendered in the English language, remains a cultural ideal. Kin terms are used to account for blood, marriage, fictive (including Pan-Indian and nonnative), and potential relationships. Individual kin terms are linguistically marked by the gender of the speaker.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Clan exogamy is practiced, and moiety exogamy is the cultural ideal. Potential marriage partners are identified through the use of kin terms that reflect the possibility of future claims. Sororate and levirate marriage rules help hold the family together, especially in terms of supporting children after the death of a parent. In the early reservation era friends served as go-betweens. Since all girls were routinely escorted by chaperons when outdoors, young men had to wait surreptitiously at the water spring or another location for an opportune moment to talk to a girl. Love songs played on a flute from afar were one method of indicating an interest in a girl. Marriage was often by elopement so that the girl could escape from the claims of her potential marriage partners. After escaping to the home of one of the boy's relatives, the young couple would return a few days later to the girl's parents' home. The boy's relatives presented gifts to the girl's relatives. If they were accepted, it signaled recognition of the marriage. Postmarital residence depends on the resources available from the families of the bride and the groom and may shift between matrilocal and patrilocal before becoming neolocal. Polygamy existed into the early twentieth century, although it was not the rule. A man rarely had more than two wives, and they were generally sisters or aunt and niece. The practice was more common among prominent men who had political and ritual duties requiring extra labor and resources. Divorce was not uncommon. An abusive husband could be turned out, the children would remain with the mother, and the father's male kin were expected to continue to support the family. An immoral wife could be turned out and punished by her husband. Generally, 'the Omaha did not favor changing the marriage relationship on a whim. In the late twentieth century serial monogamy was the general practice. Long-term stable marriages are the honored ideal.

Domestic Unit. Since the early reservation days most households have been extended collateral households to varying degrees, consisting of a husband, wife, children, one or more grandparent, and occasionally the married or unmarried siblings of the parents or children and their families. That pattern continued through the twentieth century, although single-parent and female-headed households have become more common. The composition of the household changes as the needs of other kin change. Some households include one or more unrelated persons living with and assisting the family. Overall composition is linked to economic factors, availability of housing, and personal preferences. Figures on family size are not available. The father is recognized as having the highest authority, but the mother exercises equal authority regarding the welfare of the children. The grandparents are often the primary caregivers when the parents and other adults are working.

Inheritance. Inheritance of clan name, clan rights, land, and other tangible objects usually follows a patrilineal pattern. However, ritual knowledge and rights may pass from the wife's kin to her husband or children, depending on the receiver's having shown a marked interest in such knowledge. Most of a person's personal property is distributed to kin and nonkin mourners at the funeral. Without estate planning, most land passes into undivided ownership among increasing numbers of patrilineal and/or matrilineal heirs, sometimes including adopted kin and stepchildren.

Socialization. The first source of socialization for all children is the mother, who may be supported by other adults in the extended family. Physical punishment is not a norm. Good manners, including respect for oneself and others, are the ideal. Children are viewed as individuals and are understood to develop at an individual pace. The Turning of the Child and other prereservation rites of passage have given way to preschool, kindergarten, and high school graduation ceremonies. Children who show an interest in the dance arena or the religious ceremonies are introduced into those venues. Long-term relationships are often established with adults who serve as mentors and sponsors. Teasing as a socialization tool is widespread and is applied to both children and adults.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The community remains loosely organized around the ten clans and the moiety system, with membership being ideally patrilineal. The clans are symbiotic in that the performance of most social or religious rites requires the assistance of other clans. Social stratification is moderately flexible and very complex. It is based on a family's historical and contemporary practice of religious ceremonies, an individual's ownership of ceremonial materials, the family's relationship to traditional leaders and/or women bearing the Mark of Honor, clan membership, the proportion of Omaha blood, and attainment of educational or economic standing. Until the time of World War II several secret societies existed in which membership was attained by virtue of a dream or vision. Social groups and clubs focused on the maintenance of Omaha cultural practices continue to emerge and evolve.

Political Organization. Through the late nineteenth century the Omaha were governed by the Council of Seven, whose representatives came from seven specific clans. The council's authority originated from and was sanctioned by the existence and use of two sacred pipes that represented the moiety system. Keepers of the sacred pipes, the sacred tent of war, the sacred buffalo hide, and the sacred pole attended council meetings but had no voting authority. There was no tribal assembly or tribal council. The duties of the Council of Seven included maintaining internal peace and order, securing allies, setting the date of the annual buffalo hunt, and confirming the man who was to act as the leader on that hunt. Soldiers were appointed by the council to carry out its commands and mete out punishment for transgressions of tribal law. Aggressive warfare was sanctioned and controlled by the sacred packs of war. Clans did not have a chief or council, and a clan could not act by itself in a political sense. U.S. government officials appointed pliant men as "paper chiefs," and their presence and influence disrupted the traditional order. The Omaha voted to accept tribal reorganization in 1936, including the adoption of a tribal constitution and by-laws. The Omaha are governed by a popularly elected seven-member Tribal Council whose members serve a three-year term. Off-reservation Omaha are disenfranchised.

Social Control. The effects of generations of poverty, alcoholism, and conflicting control policies implemented by non-Omaha agencies have wreaked havoc on the system of social control. In prereservation days the authority of the chiefs and the social order were safeguarded by various punishments. A man who made light of the authority of the chiefs or the sacred packs of war could be struck with a staff tipped with rattlesnake poison and killed. That practice has been discontinued. In modern times, as in the past, most offenses are directed toward an individual and tend to be dealt with by the families involved, although taking the law into one's own hands is frowned upon. Perpetrators of assault can expect themselves or their relatives to be attacked by the victim's family. The husband or close relatives often administer punishment to a man who has committed adultery. A wife may assault a woman who shows undue attention to her husband. Mainstream U.S. and tribal law codes and institutions are in place, but questions about jurisdiction and enforcement create conflict. Within the family unit an adult talking to or admonishing a child is the primary form of social control. Corporal punishment is generally frowned on. Teasing is a common control tactic. Ostracism is used occasionally. The belief in a supernatural penalty for inappropriate actions and attempts to direct supernatural punishment toward a person are fragmentary. Tribal government leaders, Native American Church leaders, and respected elders occasionally are called on to arbitrate conflicts.

Conflict. Although the Omaha have maintained a legacy of "peace" with the federal government, armed conflicts with others were not uncommon before the 1900s. To maintain control of the fur and gun trade of the middle Missouri, the Omaha battled on one occasion with the Spanish. Causes for battles with surrounding tribes included raids by encroaching groups, retaliation, and the seeking of war trophies and battlefield prestige. Adversaries included various bands of Dakota and Lakota Sioux, Arikara, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Oto, and the Omaha's nearest kin, the Ponca. Alliances and peace were established and breached through time. The performance of the Wawan (Calumet ceremony) was one method of establishing peace. Peace with the Arikara probably facilitated the transferal of local strains of maize and earth lodge technology to the Omaha. Peace with the Pawnee permitted joint use of the prime buffalo hunting grounds of the central Great Plains. Struggles with outside groups in the twentieth century included fiercely fought legal battles to retain or reclaim sovereign Omaha rights and resources. The unarmed occupation of the Blackbird Bend area of Iowa, followed by lengthy court battles, resulted in the return of lands reserved under the 1854 treaty. Occasional legal actions against the neighboring Winnebago seem to reflect competition for limited resources rather than fundamental animosity.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Before the influences of Christianization and Americanization, the Omaha believed in a continuous and invisible life force called Wakónda. This force manifested itself in the duality of motion and the action of mind and body as well as in the permanency of structure and form in the physical environment. This duality was further developed in the conceptualization of the universe as containing male and female parts whose union perpetuated order in all living things, including people's lives. Religious rites and social organizations such as the huthuga moiety system and the presence of two principal chiefs symbolized this concept. Young males would maintain a solitary fast for four days on a hilltop while praying to Wakónda for help throughout life. Since the early 1900s traditional beliefs have melded with those of multiple denominations of mainstream American Christianity and the syncretic peyote religion as codified in the Native American Church to produce a complex and sometimes conflicting worldview. The conception of Wakónda has acquired many of the anthropomorphic characteristics associated with the Christian God, including becoming the father of Jesus Christ.

Religious Practitioners. Before the 1900s every clan and subclan had a particular family to which belonged the hereditary right to furnish the keeper of the sacred objects of the clan or tribe together with its rituals and rites. The keeper alone possessed the authority to perform the ceremony. His son would follow him in discharging that duty. Assimilation and Christianization efforts have led to the decline and disappearance of nearly all prereservation practices. The majority of the Omaha maintain a pluralistic religious system through participation in the Native American Church and attenuated traditional Omaha and mainstream Christian ceremonies. Leaders of the Native American Church acquire authority by demonstrating a belief in the church and its worldview, sponsoring prayer meetings, and receiving the ceremonial instruments with the blessing of church leaders through petition or inheritance. The use of personal medicine bundles, pipes, sweat bath ceremonies, and the newly acquired sun dance ceremony follow a similar pattern.

Ceremonies. All important changes in life are marked to varying degrees with a family-centered or public ceremony. All ceremonies involve the offering of prayers to Wakónda. Many include the sharing of food provided by the ceremony's sponsor and the redistribution of material goods through gift giving. Family or public feasting marks life events such as births and birthdays, recovery from illness, graduation or social promotion, marriages and anniversaries, homecomings, death, and memorials. Tribal and national holidays are observed. Joyous occasions also may be marked by a war dance, hand game, gourd dance, or Native American Church prayer service. One child may be singled out in a family to be the focus of four yearly birthday dances or church meetings. Memorial meetings or feasts often follow this four-year pattern. Since the middle of the twentieth century prayer service leaders in the Native American Church have primarily filled the role of being the person in charge at most ceremonial functions.

Arts. In the twentieth century artistic production and performance remained culturally centered on the big drum of the dance arena and the small drum of the Native American Church prayer service. The ability to accurately render old songs and create new songs is an honored skill. Singing and drumming are a male role, although women often harmonize during the chorus of the songs. A few males play the cedar flute. Types of dancing are identified by the style of movement and distinctive regalia, including the male traditional war dance (Hethúshka), fancy dance, straight dance, grass dance, female traditional buckskin, traditional cloth, fancy shawl, and jingle dress. The gourd dance was given to the Omaha by the Kiowa in the late 1960s. Before World War II tattooing was reserved for the highly honored women of the Hónhewachi, (Night Blessed Society). The practice has become generalized throughout the population with tattoos featuring Pan-Indian, mainstream, and countercultural themes. Literary production, mostly in the form of poetry and ethnohistorical sketches, is limited. A few individuals play Western musical instruments for their own enjoyment. A handful of community members work in oil, water colors, charcoal, and pen and ink for local use.

Medicine. Before allotment several secret societies had knowledge of medicine, roots, plants, and curative practices. Original knowledge was gained through visions or dreams and tended to be specialized within each society. For example, the Téithaethe, "those whom the buffalo have shown compassion," had knowledge about the curing of wounds. The Omaha utilized a vast pharmacopeia derived from plants, animals, and minerals. Other techniques included the use of prayer, song, massage, sucking, and hacking (controlled bloodletting). By the late twentieth century traditional knowledge and practice of medicine had nearly disappeared. Western medicine is used for most daily or chronic medical needs, and several Omaha have entered the health care field. Some community members rely on Native American Church prayer services and the ritual ingestion of peyote to treat a wide range of illnesses. Sweat lodge and other prayer ceremonies sometimes are used to treat physical and mental illness.

Death and Afterlife. Through the early 1900s the Milky Way was believed to be the path followed by the spirits of people as they passed to the realm of the dead. The body was prepared for burial by the family or the society in which the deceased was a member. Burial usually occurred within a day of death. The deceased was placed in a shallow hilltop grave in a seated position facing east. Poles were arranged over the opening, upon which earth was heaped into a mound. Personal belongings were left at the grave. Some mourners cut their hair or made blood offerings by slashing their forearms. A fire was kept burning at the grave for four days to cheer the deceased during his or her journey. Food was left at the grave as a token of remembrance. The spirit of a murderer never reached the afterworld but was forced to wander the earth. By the end of the twentieth century the Omaha funeral had undergone profound changes. The embalmed body lies in state, usually in the home of a kinsman, for four nights and is buried after a public funeral on the fifth day. Mourners visit the family, partake of regular meals and prayers for the deceased, and keep all-night vigils. The fourth night is marked by a wake service or Native American Church funeral service. A key component of the final all-night vigil is the opportunity for family members to speak to the deceased for the last time. This is consonant with the older belief that under certain conditions the realm of the dead is accessible to the living and that the dead can lend their assistance in the avocations with which they were familiar.

As in the past, the environment of the afterlife is believed to be similar to the physical world, although free of want and illness. It appears that the conception of supernatural punishment and reward after death is derived from Christianity. The modern funeral involves a communal feast, the distribution of gifts to mourners, and a graveside blessing. Males assist in digging and filling the grave. Interment is in a modern casket inserted into a rough board box. Stone markers are used. There is a central hilltop tribal cemetery at Macy and several smaller cemeteries near old allotment homes. Dancing, singing, and other social events are normally canceled while a body is above ground. Stories of ghostly visitors remain common, especially in old village sites, in abandoned or old allotment homes, and near certain geographical sites. The Omaha funeral is the single activity in which nearly all Omaha, whether traditionalist or assimilated, participate. It embodies the fundamentals of the Omaha worldview, including the value of kinship, food sharing, self-sacrifice, reciprocity, and the interrelation of the physical body and the spiritual soul.

For the original article on the Omaha, see Volume 1, North America.


Dorsey, James Owen (1884). "Omaha Sociology." In Bureau of American Ethnology 3rd Annual Report, J. W. Powell. 205-307. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

(1890). Cegiha Language. Contributions to North American Ethnology, vol. 4. U.S. Department of the Interior, Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

(1896). "Omaha Dwellings, Furniture, and Implements." In Bureau of American Ethnology 13th Annual Report, J. W. Powell. 263-288. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Fletcher, Alice Cunningham, and Francis La Flesche (1911). The Omaha Tribe. Bureau of American Ethnology 27th Annual Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Fortune, Reo F. (1969). Omaha Secret Societies. New York: AMS Press.

Mead, Margaret (1932). The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe. New York: Columbia University Press.

O'Shea, John, and John Ludwickson (1992). Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Omaha: The Big Village Site. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Ridington, Robin, and Dennis Hastings (1997). Blessing for a Long Time: The Sacred Pole of the Omaha Tribe. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Scherer, Mark R. (1999). Imperfect Victories: The Legal Tenacity of the Omaha Tribe, 1945-1995. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Tate, Michael L. (1991). The Upstream People: An Annotated Research Bibliography of the Omaha Tribe. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Wishart, David J. (1994). An Unspeakable Sadness: The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.


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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.


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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Omaha (indigenous people of North America)

Omaha (ō´məhä, –hô), Native Americans whose language belongs to the Siouan branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). They, with the Ponca, migrated from the Ohio valley to the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers and from there to Iowa. At the mouth of the Niobrara River in Nebraska they separated from the Ponca. The Omaha moved farther up the Missouri River, but after an outbreak (1802) of smallpox, which considerably reduced their population, they moved to NE Nebraska. A typical tribe of the Plains area, they lived in earth lodges in the winter and tepees in the summer. They warred intermittently against the Sioux. In 1854 the Omaha ceded all their lands W of the Missouri River to the United States and moved to Dakota co., Nebr. In 1865 they sold part of their reservation to the United States for the use of the Winnebago. An act of 1882 granted the Omaha the right to own land individually; some continued to live on the Omaha Reservation in NE Nebraska. In 1990 there were over 4,000 Omaha in the United States.

See A. Fletcher, A Study of Omaha Indian Music (1893); A. Fletcher and F. La Flesche, The Omaha Tribe (1907); R. F. Fortune, Omaha Secret Societies (1932).

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Omaha Siouan-speaking tribe of Native North Americans. In the 1880s they participated in a major political action against the US government concerning ownership of Native American lands. Today some 2,000 Omaha people reside in Nebraska and Oklahoma.

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