The Omaha are a federally recognized Native American tribe which lives on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraska and western Iowa. They migrated to the upper Missouri area and the Great Plains by the late 17th century from earlier locations in the Ohio River Valley. The Omaha tribe were the first tribe on the Northern Plains to adopt an equestrian culture.
Official Tribal Name: Omaha Tribe of Nebraska
Official Website: omaha-nsn.gov/
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:
U-Mo’n-Ho’n meaning “upstream people”
Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:
Alternate names / Alternate spellings:
Name in other languages:
French – Maha, meaning “a wandering nation”
Region: Great Plains
The ancestors of the Omaha and Ponca came from the eastern woodland.
The Omaha Tribe lived near the Missouri River in present day Nebraska in the days prior to diplomatic relations with the United States government.
In 1718, the French cartographer Guillaume Delisle mapped the tribe as “The Maha, a wandering nation”, along the northern stretch of the Missouri River. French 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 Dakota to the Platte River in Nebraska. Around 1734 the Omaha established their first village west of the Missouri River on Bow Creek in present-day Cedar County, Nebraska.
Between 1819 and 1856, they established villages near what is now Bellevue, Nebraska and along Papillion Creek .
In 1815 the Omaha made their first treaty with the United States, one called a “treaty of friendship and peace.” No land was relinquished by the tribe.
The Omaha Tribe was originally designated reservation lands along the Missouri River recognized in a treaty with the United States signed on March 16, 1854.
Reservation: Omaha Reservation
Omaha Tribal Reservation
Land Area: 31,148 acres
Tribal Headquarters: Macy, Nebraska 68039
The Omaha Reservation is located in the northeastern corner of Nebraska, 26 miles southeast of Sioux City, Iowa and seventy miles north of Omaha, Nebraska on state highways 75 and 77. The Missouri River is the eastern boundary of the reservation. The Winnebago Reservation borders the northern side of the reservation. Over ninety three per cent of the land within the reservation boundaries are owned by the Tribe and Tribal members.
The terrain consists of low rolling hills marked by creeks and undergrowth, leveling off into agricultural land. There are some wooded areas consisting of cottonwood, various brushes and shrubs along the Missouri River which borders the eastern side of the reservation.
The seasonal weather variations are rather unpredictable and are some what extreme in varying climatic conditions with an average temperature of 49 degrees. Summer thunderstorm are often severe, spawning tornados and hail. Winter storm fronts often create blizzard conditions, heavy snowfall with blowing and drifting snow. The winters are cold with temperature ranging from 10 to -25 F. The summers are hot and humid, while the evenings are cool. The average annual precipitation rate is 26 inches of rain per year with 75 percent fallin between the months of April and September. The spring and fall times are very pleasant.
Population at Contact:
The first European journal reference to the Omaha tribe was made by Pierre-Charles Le Sueur in 1700. 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 present-day Sioux City, Iowa.
Registered Population Today:
There are 5,992 enrolled Omaha tribal members, with 5,227 of those living on the Omaha Tribal Reservation.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
All living members who were on the tribal roll prior to September 14, 1961, or persons with 1/4 Omaha blood quantum who were born to a member of the tribe after September 14, 1961, and who are not enrolled in another tribe.
Charter: The Omaha Tribe operates under a constitution consistent with the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934.
Name of Governing Body: The Tribal Council governs the Omaha Tribe.
Number of Council members: 7
Dates of Constitutional amendments: July 9, 1954, October 28, 1966, August 11, 2006
Number of Executive Officers: Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer and three additional Councilmen all of whom are elected by the tribal membership.
The Tribal Chairman, Officers and Council serve a term of three years at-large without regard to residence in a particular district of the reservation.
Language Classification: Siouan -> Dhegihan -> Omaha
Omaha and English
Number of fluent Speakers:
The Omaha tribe began as a larger woodland tribe comprising both the Omaha and Quapaw tribes. This tribe inhabited an area near the Ohio and Wabash rivers around 1600. As the tribe migrated west, it split into what became the Omaha and the Quapaw tribes. The Quapaw settled in what is now Arkansas and the Omaha tribe settled near the Missouri River in what is now northwestern Iowa. The Ponca split from the Omaha tribe, becoming an independent tribe, but they tended to settle near the Omaha.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
The tribe was divided into two moieties or half-tribes, the Sky People (Insta’shunda) and the Earth People (Hon’gashenu). 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 or gente. Each gens had a hereditary chief, through the male lines, as the tribe had a patrilineal system of descent and inheritance. Children were considered to be born to their father’s clan.
The hereditary chiefs and clan structures still existed at the time the elders and chiefs negotiated with the United States to cede most of their land in Nebraska in exchange for protection and cash annuities. Only men born into hereditary lines or adopted into the tribe, as Joseph LaFlesche (Iron Eye) was by the chief Big Elk in the 1840s, could become chiefs. Big Elk designated LaFlesche as his son and successor chief of the Weszinste. LaFlesche was the last recognized head chief selected by the traditional ways and the only chief with any European ancestry. He served for decades from 1853.
Ceremonies / Dances:
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
The Omaha Tribe has some of finest hunting and fishing around with local guides and bait shops available. Water sports are enjoyed by many also. The Tribe operates the Casino and Resort, a forty room motel with a convention center. The Tribe also has an RV park for tourists, hunters and fisherman in Macy, NE. Tribal organizations sponsor high stakes bing games several nights of the week.
The Omaha Tribe sponsors an annual pow wow every summer. This event also includes arts and handcrafts sales and a softball tournament. The reservation has several beach areas and boat ramps for fishing and water sports. During the year other sports activities such as softball, volleyball, and basketball tournaments are also held during the year.
Legends / Oral Stories:
Art & Crafts:
Semi-permanent Omaha villages lasted from 8 to 15 years. They created sod houses for winter dwellings, which were arranged in a large circle in the order of the five clans or gentes of each moitie, to keep the balance between the Sky and Earth parts of the tribe.
The Omaha Tribe’s major economic occupations are Tribal and Federal government administration, farming including both Tribal and Non-Tribal operators, or staff positions relative to the Tribal Casino operation. The majority of employment is provided by the Omaha Tribe, the Casino, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Carl T. Curtis Health Center, a Tribal health facility in Macy, Nebraska.
An Indian Health Service (IHS) Hospital is located in the community of Winnebago, NE. The Omaha provides an Elderly Nutrition Program and Youth Recreational Activities. Additional health care is provided by the Tribal Health Department through the Community Health Representative and Substance Abuse Prevention Program. The Health Department also provides examinations and eyeglasses to all residents at reduced rates.
IHS provides ambulance and transport service for Nursing Home residents and outpatient referrals at the Carl T. Curtis Health Center. Transportation for the elderly on the reservation is provided by the Inter-Tribal Elderly Program. Transportation service is available for families for the purpose of shopping for necessities provided by Macy Industries, Inc. of Macy, NE.
There are postal services available, 3 churches, and a community center which is used to hold social events such as funerals, dances, and Indian ceremonials. The Omaha Tribe provides police coverage and a jail in the community, and the fire department is on a volunteer basis. A group home provides a safe environment for troubled and endangered youth.
Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
The Omaha had an 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.
Tribal College: Nebraska Indian Community College located on the Omaha Reservation at Macy, on the Santee Sioux Reservation at Santee, and in South Sioux City, was a group project of all the Indian tribes of Nebraska.
Omaha Chiefs and Leaders:
Chief Blackbird – Established trade with the Spanish and French, and used trade as a security measure to protect his people. Aware they traditionally lacked a large population as defense from neighboring tribes, Blackbird believed that fostering good relations with white explorers and trading were the keys to their survival. Died in the smallpox epidemic about 1800.
Big Elk the Elder– Big Elk became the leader upon the death of Blackbird. In 1804 Lewis and Clark met with the Omaha. Facing dwindling food and hostilities from other tribes, Big Elk negotiated treaties with the U.S. in 1815, 1821 and 1837. In the last two he traveled to Washington D.C. Big Elk was a spellbinding speaker known for his bravery, kindness, and wisdom.
Big Elk the Younger – Upon his father’s death, Big Elk the Younger became Omaha chief. Near the end of his life he began preparing to negotiate the broadest treaty with the U.S. to sale the majority of the Omaha lands. Big Elk died the year before the treaty in 1853.
Joseph La Flesche [Iron Eye] – Joseph was a son of a Frenchman and a Ponca. Though uneducated and unable to speak English, Joseph encouraged education and temperance with alcohol. He believed that survival meant adapting to white culture. As the last leader under the old rituals, his leadership was filled with strife. Joseph’sconversion to Presbyterianism ultimately cost him the position of chief.
Logan Fontenelle – Born in Kansas to a Frenchman and an Omaha, Logan was educated in St. Louis and moved to Bellevue, Nebraska as an interpreter for the U.S. government from 1840 to 1853. Not a chief by blood, Logan was elected chief in 1853. In addition to leading the seven chiefs in Washington for the 1854 treaty, he promoted eduction and agriculture during his short tenure. Two years after signing the treaty, Logan was killed in what was reportedly a skirmish with Sioux in northeast Nebraska.
Around 1800 a smallpox epidemic drastically reduced the tribe’s population of nearly 3,000 down to 300 by 1802.
In the News: