Omaha Indians at UNO

Profiles By: Robyn Tait

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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.

 

By 1971, the feeling in the land had changed. Just as the University of Omaha became the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Student Senate resolved that “the University of Nebraska at Omaha discontinue the use of the name ‘Indian’ for its athletic teams, abolish Oumpi as the school mascot, and end the misuse of Indian culture at university activities, such as homecoming and Ma-ie Day” (Gateway May 1971 1). This move was encouraged by the Indian student community, who “objected to the symbols as   degrading . . . derogatory” and “complained about UNO using a race of people as a mascot, and didn’t like the comic strip Ouampi on matchbooks, stickers etc” (Gateway May 1971 1). It must be noted that some students on the Senate opposed these changes with arguments very similar to ones you hear now as to why teams should keep their Indian mascots, such as, “[I]t is not intended as an insult, it’s a compliment.”

Interestingly, the UO/UNO Alumni Association consulted with the Omaha tribe about the name change, just as they had done in 1935 when they first took on Omaha customs. The Omaha Tribal Council replied strongly, “Do not use our name in any shape or form now or in the future. The Indian American is making progress in all ways that need change and it may look ‘cute’ to outsiders to ‘make fun’ of our culture as has been the case for many years but we consider this a disgrace to us and other Indians who are proud of their Indian heritage” (Gateway June 1971). The university responded decisively by setting up a committee to phase out both Ouampi and the team name.

 

 

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Red Power and Cultural Resurgence

What brought about this massive change in student and faculty feelings toward the Indians and in the Indians’ desire to protect and promote their own culture?  Why did UNO get rid of their Indian team name and mascot in 1971? During the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, the United States saw a surge in activism by and for minority groups, “which encouraged ethnic identification, pride, and activism” (Nagel 12). At the same time the Vietnam War was protested, there were protests that called for more rights for Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Coincidentally, the middle of last century saw, for the first time in 600 years, an increase in the Native American population. During this time several other factors interwove and fed off each other to create a climate of Native cultural resurgence: new, less destructive government policies including