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The Omaha tribe is a Native American tribe that currently resides on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraskamarker and western Iowamarker, United Statesmarker. The Omaha Indian Reservation lies primarily in the southern part of Thurston Countymarker and northeastern Cuming Countymarker, Nebraska, but small parts extend into the northeast corner of Burt Countymarker and across the Missouri Rivermarker into Monona County, Iowamarker. Its total land area is 796.355 km² (307.474 sq mi) and a population of 5,194 was recorded in the 2000 census. Its largest community is Macy.

During the late 18th and early 19th century, the Omaha were briefly the most powerful Indians on the Great Plainsmarker. The tribe was the first in that region to master equestrianism, and they developed an extensive trade network with early white explorers and voyageur. Never known to take up arms against the U.S., members of the tribe assisted the U.S. during the American Civil War.

Omaha, Nebraskamarker, the largest city in Nebraska, is named after them.

The Omaha speak a Siouan language which is very similar to that spoken by the Ponca, who were once a part of the Omaha before splitting off into a separate tribe in the mid-18th century.


The Omaha tribe began as a larger woodland tribe comprising both the Omaha and Quapaw tribes. This original tribe inhabited the area near the Ohio and Wabash rivers around year 1600. As the tribe migrated west, it split into what became the Omaha tribe and the Quapaw tribe. The Quapaw settled in what is now Arkansasmarker and the Omaha tribe, known as U-Mo'n-Ho'n ("upstream") settled near the Missouri Rivermarker in what is now northwestern Iowamarker. The first European journal reference to the Omaha tribe was made by Pierre-Charles Le Sueur in 1700. Informed by reports, he described an Omaha village with 400 dwellings and a population of about 4,000 people. It was located on the Big Sioux River near its confluence with the Missouri River near Sioux City, Iowamarker. This river was once called "The River of the Mahas."

Tribal territory of Omaha and other tribes
In 1718 French cartographer Guillaume Delisle mapped the tribe as “The Maha, a wandering nation”, along the northern stretch of the Missouri River. Frenchmarker fur trappers found the Omaha on the eastern side of the Missouri River in the mid-18th century. The Omaha were believed to have ranged from the Cheyenne River in South Dakotamarker to the Platte River in Nebraska. Around 1734 the first Omaha village west of the Missouri River was established on Bow Creek in present-day Cedar County, Nebraskamarker. Around 1755 a new village was located probably near Homer, Nebraskamarker. "Ton won tonga", also called the "Big Village," was the village of Chief Blackbird.

Around 1800 a smallpox epidemic introduced by contact with Europeans swept the area, decimating the tribe's population by killing approximately two-thirds of its members. Chief Blackbird died that year. Blackbird had established trade with the Spanishmarker and French and used trade as a security measure to protect his people. The Omaha became the first tribe to master equestrianism on the Great Plains, which gave them a temporary superiority over the Sioux and other larger tribes as far as hunting and movement. Aware they traditionally had a lack of a large population to protect themselves from neighboring tribes, Chief Blackbird believed that fostering good relations with white explorers and trading were the keys to their survival. The village of Tonwantongo was home to Chief Blackbird and another 1,100 people around the year 1795. The Spanish built a fort nearby and traded regularly with the Omaha during this period.

When Lewis and Clark visited Tonwantongo in 1804, most of the inhabitants were gone on a buffalo hunt. They met with the Oto Indians instead. They were led to Chief Blackbird's gravesite before they continued on their expedition west. In 1815 the first treaty between the United States and the tribe, called a "treaty of friendship and peace," was signed. No land was relinquished by the tribe.

Omaha villages were established and lasted from 8 to 15 years. Eventually, disease and Sioux aggression forced the tribe to move south. Villages were established near what is now Bellevue, Nebraskamarker and along Papillon Creek between 1819 and 1856.

Loss of land

The Treaty of Prairie du Chien of 1831 took the Omaha's claims to their lands in Iowa, east of the Missouri River, with the understanding the tribe still had hunting rights there. In 1836 a treaty took their remaining hunting lands in northwestern Missouri. In 1856, Logan Fontenelle translated the negotiations which led the Omaha to sell their lands to the United States. During the same negotiations the tribe agreed to move to their present reservation to the north in Thurston County, Nebraskamarker. Soon after Fontenelle was killed in a skirmish with the Brule and Arapaho. By the 1870s, bison were quickly disappearing from the plains, and the Omaha had to increasingly rely upon the United States Government and its new culture.

The Omaha never took up arms against the U.S., and several members of the tribe fought for the Union during the American Civil War, as well as each subsequent war through today.


In pre-settlement times, the Omaha had a very intricately developed social structure that was closely tied to the people's concept of an inseparable union between sky and earth. This union was viewed as critical to perpetuation of all living forms and pervaded Omaha culture. The tribe was divided into two moieties, Sky and Earth people. Sky people were responsible for the tribe's spiritual needs and Earth people for the tribe's physical welfare. Each moiety was composed of five clans.


Omaha beliefs were symbolized in their dwelling structures. During most of the year Omaha Indians lived in earth lodges, ingenious structures with a timber frame and a thick soil covering. At the center of the lodge was a fireplace that recalled their creation myth. The earthlodge entrance faced east, to catch the rising sun and remind the people of their origin and migration upriver. The circular layout of tribal villages reflected the tribe's beliefs. Sky people lived in the north half of the village, the area that symbolized the heavens. Earth people lived in the south half which represented the earth. Within each half of the village, individual clans were carefully located based on their member's tribal duties and relationship to other clans. Earth lodges were as large as in diameter and might hold several families, even their horses.

As the tribe migrated westward from the Ohio River region, the woodland custom of bark lodges was replaced with tipis (borrowed from the Sioux) and earth lodges (borrowed from the Pawnee). Tipis were used primarily during buffalo hunts and when relocating from one village area to another. They would sleep in lodges during the winter.


The Omaha revere a Sacred Pole made of cottonwood that is called Umoⁿ'hoⁿ'ti (meaning "The Real Omaha"), and considered to be a person. It was removed to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnologymarker in 1888 and returned to the tribe in July 1989.The Sacred Pole is said to represent the body of a man. The name by which it is known, a-kon-da-bpa, is the word used to designate the leather bracer worn upon the wrist of an Indian to protect it from the bow string. This name affords unmistakable evidence that the pole was intended to symbolize a man, as no other creature could wear a bracer. It also indicated that the man thus symbolized was one who was both a provider and protector of his people.




See also


  1. John Joseph Mathews, The Osages: Children of the Middle Waters (University of Oklahoma Press 1961), pages 110, 128, 140, 282
  2. (2007) "History at a glance", Douglas County Historical Society. Retrieved 2/2/08.

External links

  • Omaha Indian Music Ethnographic field collection from the Library of Congressmarker. Recordings of traditional Omaha music from the 1890s, as well as recordings and photographs from the late 20th century. Retrieved August 28, 2009.

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