Omaha Indians at UNO

Profiles By: Robyn Tait

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Assimilation

Assimilation, the process whereby Native cultures would be swallowed up, dissolved, and absorbed into dominant white culture, was “encouraged” through education and the law. Educating the children into white man’s ways was seen as an expedient method to destroy their Native language, culture, religion, family structure, and in so doing, “civilize” them.  This philosophy was particularly prevalent in the missionary and state-run boarding schools, which Matthew Fletcher, in his book American Indian Education, calls “some of the most horrific examples of the attempt to assimilate Indian people into the melting pot of American society” (3). For example, Sidney Keith, a Lakota speaking of his own boarding school experiences, said the teachers “wouldn’t let you speak your own language—they would soap your mouth” (qtd. in Matthiessen xxxiii). A UNO professor, speaking anonymously of her grandfather’s experiences, told me he had attended an Indian boarding school in Canada where 40 percent of the children had died, including his sister. How ironic  that in 1934, with Indian boarding schools actively stamping out the transmission of Native language and culture, the University of Omaha was heartily adopting Omaha customs for their own. In fact, one of the faculty surveyed stated, “[I]t is desirable that before it is too late, something be done to perpetuate the culture of the Indians” (Gateway 1934 1).  It looked like the Omaha, and all Indians as distinct peoples, were going to disappear.

 

 

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1934: Ouampi Arrives at UO

As part of this new “Indian” direction, the UNO football team changed their name from the “Cardinals” to the “Indians,” the men’s pep team became the “Warriors,” the women’s became the “Feathers,” the yearbook changed from the Omahan to the Tomahawk, and the official team mascot became “Ouampi” (pronounced “Whompie”) ,complete with a tomahawk-wielding “Ouampi dance” (Gateway 1957 2). At this time, an Indian-themed spring Ma-ie festival was also instigated, named after “the Indian word for May” (Gateway 1951), complete with a crowned Indian Princess (usually from a sorority), a parade, and a dance. In 1947, a Gateway article predicted, “[A]n estimated twelve floats will lead the procession of tepees on wheels in full war paint and ceremony regalia” (1). Happily, the last Ma-ie Princess was crowned in 1950, but the “Indians” and “Ouampi” lasted another twenty-one years.