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Omaha Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Omaha Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Omaha language and culture pages for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Omaha pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




   Omaha Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Omaha"? What does it mean?
Omaha is pronounced "oh-muh-hah." In their own language, the name sounds more like u-mahn-hahn, with nasal vowels. It means "upriver people."

Where do the Omahas live?
The Omaha Indians are original people of Iowa and Nebraska. Most Omaha people are still living there today.

How is the Omaha Indian nation organized?
The Omahas live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Omaha Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Omahas are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Omaha band was led by a chief who was chosen by a tribal council. Today, the Omaha tribe is governed by councilmembers who are elected by all the tribal members.

What language do the Omaha Indians speak?
Most Omaha people speak English today. However, many Omahas, especially elders, also speak their native Omaha-Ponca language, which they share with the neighboring Ponca tribe. If you'd like to know an easy Omaha word, "aho" (pronounced ah-hoe) is a friendly greeting.

What was Omaha culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. On their site you can find information about the Omaha people in the past and today.

Today Omaha is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Omaha people are working to keep their language alive.

How do Omaha Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Omaha children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Here is a picture of a hoop game played by Plains Indian kids. An Omaha mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Omaha tribe?
Omaha men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Omaha women were farmers and also built and transported teepees. Only men became Omaha chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Omaha homes like in the past?
During the fall and winter, the Omaha Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. Omaha lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. During the spring and summer, the Omahas moved from camp to camp as they followed the buffalo herds. During those times, the Omahas lived in buffalo-hide tents called tipis (or teepees). Tipis were carefully designed to set up and break down quickly. An entire Omaha village could be packed up and ready to move within an hour. Here are some pictures of lodges, tipis, and other Indian houses.

Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for housing. Most Omahas live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Omaha clothing like? Did the Omahas wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Omaha women wore long deerskin dresses. Omaha men wore breechcloths with leather leggings and buckskin shirts. The Omahas wore moccasins on their feet, and in cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. An Omaha warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with porcupine quills, beadwork, and tribal designs. Later, Omaha people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests, which they also decorated with quillwork and fancy beading. Here is a site about the symbolism of Plains Indian war shirts, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

Omaha Indian leaders sometimes wore the famous Plains Indian warbonnets. At other times, Omaha men wore turban-like fur hats. Omaha women usually wore their hair in two long braids. Omaha warriors often wore their hair in the Mohawk style or shaved their heads completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of their heads). Sometimes they added a porcupine roach to make this hairstyle more impressive. Both men and women wore tribal tattoos and also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Omaha people still have moccasins or a buckskin dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Omaha transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Omaha Indians didn't live near the ocean. When they traveled over land, the Omahas used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Omaha food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Omaha Indians were big game hunters. During the spring and summer, the Omaha tribe followed the buffalo herds, and their diet consisted mostly of meat. In the fall, the Omahas returned to their villages to harvest corn, beans and squash. In the winter, they ate dried food, hunted small game, and fished in the rivers. Here is a website with more information about American Indian hunting.

What were Omaha weapons and tools like in the past?
Omaha hunters used bows and arrows. Fishermen used spears or special fishing arrows. In war, Omaha men fired their bows or fought with war clubs and hide shields. Here is a website with pictures and information about Plains Indian weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Omaha tribe interact with?
The Omahas traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau, especially the Pawnee and Wichita. These tribes usually communicated using the Plains Sign Language.

The Omahas also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death or destroyed each other's villages. Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touching an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy's weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe's warriors to retreat. Some tribes the Omahas frequently fought with included the Sioux and Kanza.

What are Omaha arts and crafts like?
Omaha artists are famous for their quilling, beading, and hide paintings. Here is a museum website with photographs of Omaha Indian beadwork.

What kinds of stories do the Omahas tell?
There are lots of traditional Omaha legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Omaha Indian culture. Here is one story about the origin of the Omaha people. Here's a website where you can read more about Omaha legends.

What about Omaha religion?
Sorry, but we cannot help you with religious information. Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about the sweat lodge used by Omaha, Ponca and other tribes, or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Native American Doctor, a biography of the Omaha leader Susan LaFlesche Picotte, who became the first female American Indian medical doctor. If you want to know more about Omaha culture and history, one good book on the subject is Betraying the Omaha Nation, though it may be tough reading for kids. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Omaha Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Omahas

Omaha Indian Tribe
An overview of the Omaha people, their language and history.

Omaha Language Resources
Omaha language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Omaha Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Omaha tribe past and present.

Omaha Words
Omaha Indian vocabulary lists.



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