History of the Umoⁿhoⁿ

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Social Guinea Pigs

Frequent friendly contact with the white settlers, combined with the willingness of several Omaha chiefs to embrace white culture, resulted in the Omaha becoming “guinea pigs” for several disastrous Indian programs of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Boughter 4).  These included land allotments, land leasing, and “competency commissions” (Boughter 4). Early ethnographer, Alice Fletcher, studied and lived with the Omaha for several years starting in 1881. In her report, she states, “their ancient tribal organization has ceased to exist, owing to changed environment and the extinction of the buffalo, and the immediate presence of the white man’s civilization” (Fletcher and La Flesche 33). Though sympathetic to the Indians, her enthusiastic support of land allotments, dividing reservation land up into individual parcels for each member, shows the limitation of her understanding of tribal ways. This disastrous allotment system was first tried on the Omaha, which resulted in half their land being gobbled up by eager white settlers, and then, five years later in 1887, the Dawes Act extended allotment to the whole country.

 

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Whiskey

“Rival fur companies competing for pelts introduced the Omahas to liquor” (Boughter 28).  Whiskey quickly became a necessary component of all trading deals, used by unscrupulous traders to get the Indians drunk and swing the deals their way. Alcohol has continued to be a force of dissolution and dissipation for the tribe, contributing greatly to poverty, malnutrition, violence, and death.  As Boughter describes it, “Liquor robbed them of their dignity and destroyed the vitality of their traditional culture” (45). The role of white traders, bootleggers, and “grocers” in surrounding the reservation and illegally supplying Indians with liquor, while simultaneously taking advantage of them and stealing their goods and lands, cannot be ignored. It has been suggested that the Indian genetic makeup, being unused to alcohol, does not have a genetic map to enable the body to break down alcohol —thus