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What is the Omaha Tribe?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Omaha tribe is a group of Native Americans generally associated with the US state of Nebraska, although that isn't the tribe’s original home. Some research suggests that the tribe originally migrated from the East Coast, but that happened so long ago that there is very little data about it. Prior to the 17th century, there was a period when these Indians lived in Missouri, but warring with the Dakota tribe allegedly caused them to abandon that area and move to Nebraska. The Omaha are known for their crafting skills with bead-work and quilting. Their name means "those who travel against the current."

During the warmer months, the Omaha tribe traveled with the buffalo, living in special hide tents called tipis. In the winter and fall, they settled down in homes made from wood and dirt. The tipis were erected and dismantled during traveling by the women of the tribe, and this could be done very quickly.

In the villages, the Omaha tribe grew various crops, including beans, squash and melons. They would harvest these foods in the fall when they returned from following the buffalo. In terms of sustenance, the buffalo meat made up the largest portion of their diet. In the winter, they also hunted smaller game, and they did a lot of fishing. In addition, the women of the tribe would gather nuts, roots and berries as a supplement to the crops.

When hunting, the Omaha tribe used bows and arrows as the primary weapons, and the tribe members usually fished with specialized spears. In wartime, the bows were used as weapons, along with spears and shields. Like many other plains tribes, their wars were fought with less violence than most other cultures. They generally fought to prove their bravery, and war for territory or more dangerous battles were more rare. They had a custom called counting coup, which involved putting your hands on an enemy during a fight, and that was generally considered more important than killing enemies in battle.

The Omaha tribe first encountered European settlers in the early 1800s with the arrival of the famous explorers Lewis and Clark. In general terms, the relationship between the Omaha and white settlers was relatively peaceful. In the mid-1850s, the tribe decided to sell a lot of its hunting grounds to the US government for approximately $850,000 US dollars (USD). At around the same time, there was a reservation established in Nebraska, which the tribe still uses.

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Discussion Comments
By stl156 — On Dec 03, 2011

I see the Omaha Tribe as being very similar to other Plains Indians Tribes that made up that area of the country.

Like other Plains Indians they were hunters and gatherers and followed the buffalo every chance they got. This was no different than other tribes like the Sioux or the Dakota Tribes.

What I find interesting is that the Omaha Tribes were not members of the Sioux Nation. The Sioux Nation itself consisted of various factions of the Sioux Tribe and controlled a large portion of this area. In fact, there were very few tribes in this area of the country that were not affiliated with the Sioux and the Omaha was one of them.

The Sioux were very powerful and a danger to fight and it seems like the Omaha Tribe was a strong people that did not run away from a fight, but braved it out and saw other ways of settling differences. Their game of touching their opponent instead of killing them is an example of their bravery and I find it amazing that they would do this against a tribe like the Sioux.

By TreeMan — On Dec 02, 2011

@matthewc23- If you look at Native Americans history with a fine toothed comb you will notice that this is not at all out of the ordinary for tribes to have places named after them that they did not originate from.

Take for example the Miami Tribe which populated the Midwest around Illinois. The city of Miami Florida was named after them, but the tribe never lived in that region of the country.

Also, although they may not have originated in or around Omaha, they did ultimately settle there and settled there for a very long time. It would make sense that once a white settlement was established there that they would pick a local name to call it.

By matthewc23 — On Dec 02, 2011

@Emilski - Exactly, it is a very interesting thing to look at. To imagine that the ultimate glory of the battle was not to kill an opponent. but to rather touch them and run away to safety was quite amazing.

I guess it was something like if you could touch them you could kill them so there was no reason to waste someone who was as brave as you by simply killing them.

I know that this particular tribe did war on occasion with a neighboring tribe, but it was fairly rare and was only done when there were major disputes that could not be settled diplomatically.

I also find it strange that the Omaha Tribe did not begin in Nebraska, yet they have the biggest city in Nebraska named after them.

By Emilski — On Dec 01, 2011

I find it very interesting that they had a custom of for the most part only fighting other tribes in order to prove their bravery.

I am guessing that they had a culture that was highly based on honor and that the young males in the tribe had to go through several rights of passage in order to be accepted into manhood.

I guess maybe they also had some respect for the other tribe they were fighting because they saw them as being brave also.

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