The Omaha Language and the Omaha Way

The Omaha Language and the Omaha Way

An Introduction to Omaha Language and Culture

Omaha Language and Culture Center, Omaha Nation Public School, Macy, Nebraska, and the Omaha Language Instruction Team, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

924 pages
191 illustrations, 193 tables, 1 map, 3 photographs, 19 figures


August 2018


$75.00 Pre-order

August 2019


$30.00 Pre-order

About the Book

Published through the Recovering Languages and Literacies of the Americas initiative, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Omaha Language and the Omaha Way provides a comprehensive textbook for students, scholars, and laypersons to learn to speak and understand the language of the Omaha Nation. Mark Awakuni-Swetland, Vida Woodhull Stabler, Aubrey Streit Krug, Loren Frerichs, and Rory Larson have collaborated with elder speakers, including Alberta Grant Canby, Emmaline Walker Sanchez, Marcella Woodhull Cavou, and Donna Morris Parker, to write this book.

The original and creative pedagogical method of teaching Omaha language through Omaha culture used in this textbook consists of a structured series of lesson plans. It is the result of a generous collaboration between the Department of Anthropology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the Umóⁿhoⁿ Language and Culture Center at Umóⁿhoⁿ Nation Public School in Macy, Nebraska. The method draws on the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of Awakuni-Swetland to illustrate the Omaha values of balance and integration. The contents are shaped into two parts, each of which complements the other—just as the Earth and Sky do.  

This textbook features an introduction by Awakuni-Swetland on the history and phonology of the Omaha language; lessons from the Umóⁿhoⁿ Language and Culture Center at Macy, with a writing system quick sheet; situation quick sheets; lessons on games; lessons on spring, summer, fall, and winter; an Omaha language resource list; and a glossary in the standard Macy orthography of the Omaha language. The textbook also includes cultural lessons in the language by Awakuni-Swetland and lessons from the Omaha language class at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL).

The Omaha Language and the Omaha Way offers a linguistic foundation for tribal members, students, scholars, and laypersons, featuring Omaha community lessons, the standard Macy orthography, and UNL orthography all under one cover.

Author Bio

Mark Awakuni-Swetland (1956–2015) was an associate professor of anthropology and ethnic studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, principal co-investigator for the Omaha and Ponca Digital Dictionary, and a coordinator for the Omaha Language Curriculum Development Project. He is the author of Dance Lodges of the Omaha People: Building from Memory (Nebraska, 2008) and the editor of the Omaha and Ponca Digital Dictionary


“This book, whose subject matter is critically important for any member of the Omaha Nation, can help a reader move from being someone who is simply looking to say a few words in Omaha to someone who can read, write, and speak Omaha at a conversational level. I consider it a major contribution to its field.”—Ryan Kasak, doctoral candidate in linguistics at Yale University

Table of Contents

Editors’ Preface
Guide for Readers
Introduction by Mark Awakuni-Swetland
            Introduction to This Volume
            Origin Story of the UNL Omaha Language Class
            Note to Instructors and Students
            The Omaha People
            Key Concepts
            Textbook Leaders
                        Mark Awakuni-Swetland
                        Vida Castro Woodhull (Stabler)
            Elders and Teachers
                        Delores Black
Marcella Woodhull Cayou
Alberta Grant Canby
                        Donna Morris Parker
Patricia Phillips
Arlene Walker
Emmaline Walker Sanchez
                        Rufus White
            Contributing Authors and Editors
                        Loren H. Frerichs
                        Bryan James Gordon
                        Rory Larson
                        Aubrey Streit Krug
            Miya Kobayashi
            Barbara Salvatore
            Jacob Smith

Part 1: Lessons from the Title VII Umóⁿhoⁿ Language and Culture Center at Umóⁿhoⁿ Nation Public School
1 Introduction to UNPS Lessons
            1.1 Writing System Quick Sheet: Umóⁿhoⁿ Íye-tʰe Áwatʰegoⁿ Baxú-noⁿ, “How It Is Written in Umóⁿhoⁿ”
            1.2 Articles
            1.3 Elder Verb Patterns
2 Situation Quick Sheets
            2.1 A Guide to Using Situational Quick Sheets, Wagthábaze Úmakʰa
            2.2 Animal Characteristics – Waníta Úshkoⁿ
            2.3 Animal Drawing – Waníta Gthíxu-a/ga
            2.4 Animal Names – Waníta Izházhe Etái-ge
            2.5 Birthday Celebration and Musical Chairs
            2.6 Classroom Phrases – Action Verbs
            2.7 Classroom Phrases – Asking and Talking
            2.8 Classroom Phrases – Beginning of Class
            2.9 Classroom Phrases – Ending/Leaving
            2.10 Classroom Phrases – Places and Movement
            2.11 Classroom Phrases – Praise and Caring
            2.12 Classroom Phrases – Teaching Phrases
            2.13 Clothing and Weather – Háthe-tʰe Óⁿba-akʰa-shti
            2.14 Coffee Phrases – Moⁿkóⁿsabe Uthá
            2.15 Coffee Script – Moⁿkóⁿsabe Uthá Ukíkʰia
            2.16 Colors – Úgaxe Ázhi-thoⁿthoⁿ
            2.17 Days of the Week
            2.18 Doings Phrases – Úzhawa Íye
            2.19 Doings Cultural Note
            2.20 Door Phrases (See You Later, Greetings)
            2.21 Five Senses – Wíubesni Sátoⁿ
            2.22 Baking a Cake – Wamóⁿske Skíthe Oⁿgúhoⁿi-tʰe
            2.23 Basic Prayer for Praying over Food – Oⁿwóⁿhoⁿ’a
            2.24 Sitting Around the Table – Wáthatʰe Uthíshoⁿ Oⁿgthíⁿ
            2.25 Four Directions/Points of a Compass
            2.26 Four Seasons
            2.27 Handgame: Greetings for Handgame – Íⁿ’utʰiⁿ Thatʰí
            2.28 Handgame: Setup and Instruments
            2.29 Handgame: Encouragements and Gameplay
            2.30 Handgame: Gameplay Phrases – Íⁿ’utʰiⁿ Shkáde-kʰe Uthá
            2.31 Handgame: Q&A
            2.32 Handgame: Worksheet
            2.33 Handgame: Worksheet (Umóⁿhoⁿ Íye Wénoⁿba)
            2.34 Handgame: Flyer
            2.35 Handwashing – Noⁿbé Kigthízha-tʰe
            2.36 Household Objects – Iⁿdádoⁿ-shte Tí-adi-ge
            2.37 Inviting and Visiting – Wéku Tiúpe Éthoⁿba
            2.38 In the Kitchen – Úhoⁿ Tí-adi
            2.39 Money Denominations – Móⁿzeska
            2.40 Months of the Umóⁿhoⁿ Calendar Year – Mí-kʰe
            2.41 Numbers – Watháwa
            2.42 Opposites
            2.43 Outside and Play – Áshi Shkáde Thé-Wathe
            2.44 Relationship Terms – Éawathe
            2.45 Restroom Phrases – Tí Zhiⁿga Uthá
            2.46 Telephone Phrases – Móⁿze Íutha Uthá
            2.47 Time: Telling Time from the Clock – Miídoⁿbe Ánoⁿ-a?
            2.48 Time: Yesterday Today Tomorrow – Sidádi Óⁿbathe Gasóⁿthiⁿ
            2.49 Time of Day
            2.50 Umóⁿhoⁿ Language Pledge – Wóⁿgithe Oⁿthípʰi
            2.51 Wellness Center Actions and the Four Hills of Life – Niyé Thiⁿgé Tí-adi Wágazhi, Pahé Dúba Níta Moⁿthíⁿ
3 Úshkade – Games
            3.1 Games How-To
            3.2 Card-Game Play Phrases – Wathíbaba Íshkade Uthá
            3.3 Board-Game Play Phrases – Zhoⁿbtháska Áshkade Uthá
            3.4 Ball-Game Play Phrases – Tabé Íshkade Uthá
            3.5 Go Fish – Hugási Moⁿthiⁿ-a/ga
            3.6 Tóⁿkawe
            3.7 Monopoly Umóⁿhoⁿ Úshkoⁿ
            3.8 Grandma Says – Thikóⁿ Áthigazhi
            3.9 Natural Body Action/Total Physical Response
            3.10 Sorry – Uthúama
            3.11 Pokeno
            3.12 Trouble – Píazhi Shkáxe
            3.13 Jenga – Uxpáthe-taakʰa
            3.14 Twister – Zhú Thibéni
            3.15 Blackjack – Gthéboⁿ Noⁿbá Kʰi Édi Wiⁿóⁿxchi
            3.16 Darts – Móⁿdehi Óⁿtha Thétha/ga
            3.17 Badminton/Racquetball – Wazhíⁿga Zhiⁿga Utʰíⁿ-a/ga
            3.18 Jump Rope and Tug-of-War – Házhiⁿga U’óⁿsisi, Házhiⁿga Thidóⁿ
4 Nugé moⁿshté – Summer
            4.1 “Taps” and Memorial Day
            4.2 Summer Months
            4.3 Milkweed and Berries – Waxthá Waxtá Skíthe Éthoⁿba
            4.4 Nature Walk Lesson Plan
            4.5 Umóⁿhoⁿ Language and Culture Center Mission Statement
            4.6 High School Umóⁿhoⁿ Íye I, II, and III Scope and Sequence
            4.7 First Days of School and Basic Self-Introductions
            4.8 Self-Introduction Basic Curriculum – Ebé bthíⁿ-tʰe uwíbtha-tamiⁿkʰe
            4.9 Clothing and Weather for Summer – Háthe, Moⁿshté
            4.10 Umóⁿhoⁿ Flag Song
            4.11 Húthuga: Wayne Tyndall-akʰa Húthuga Uthái-tʰe
            4.12 Harvest Celebration – Hédewachi/Hethúshka
            4.13 Hédewachi/Hethúshka Phrases
            4.14 Umóⁿhoⁿ Regalia, Men’s and Women’s
            4.15 Sewing Phrases – Wabátʰe Uthá
            4.16 The First Umóⁿhoⁿ Pow-Wow Princess – Míⁿdashoⁿthiⁿ (Gerine Woodhull Davidson)
4.17 Zoo – Waníta Tí-ata Thé-Wathe
            4.18 Grocery-Store Trip – Pahóⁿga Úthiwiⁿ Tí-ata Oⁿgáthai-tʰe
            4.19 Kool-Aid – Nískithe
            4.20 Banana Splits – Waxtáthiguzhe másne
            4.21 Funerary Sayings – Wat’é-kʰe Wagíxe-tʰe-shti uthá
            4.22 Passing-On Beliefs
            4.23 Grief in Our Umóⁿhoⁿ Community – Útiha
5 Toⁿgáxthoⁿ – Fall
            5.1 Fall Months
            5.2 Cheers for the Chiefs
            5.3 Fall Phrases – Student Handout and Answer Key
            5.4 Justin McCauley’s Cougar Story – Justin-akʰa waníta dóⁿbai-tʰe ugthá góⁿtha ‘Justin wanted to tell about seeing an animal’
            5.5 Homecoming Float
            5.6 Candy Action – Zhoⁿní Thatʰé-Wathe
            5.7 Tribal Council Vocabulary and Phrases – Gahíye
            5.8 Halloween Phrases
            5.9 Halloween Silly Questions and Answers
            5.10 Halloween Drawing Scene
            5.11 Pin the Bone on the Skeleton (Halloween Game)
            5.12 Flag Pledge
            5.13 Corn Removal Student Worksheet
            5.14 Corn Removal Teacher Handout
            5.15 Food: “Tehéxthu’a/Food o’ Plenty” Coloring Activity
            5.16 Thanksgiving Day Foods – Wathátʰe Toⁿga Óⁿbathe
            5.17 Set the Food Out – Wathátʰe-tʰe Áwa-ta Itʰéathe-a?
            5.18 Thanksgiving Color Sheet Phrases – Wagthábaze Ugá
            5.19 Thanksgiving Day Verbs, “I Like” and “I Don’t Like”
            5.20 Thanksgiving Bingo – Zizíka Óⁿbathe (Today is Turkey Day)
            5.21 Thanksgiving Fill-in-the-Blanks Handout
            5.22 Birds Go South
6 Mágashude – Winter
            6.1 Winter Months
            6.2 Clothing and Weather for Winter – Háthe, Usní
            6.3 Self-Introductions, Continued: Additional Phrases and Tisha Webster’s Example
            6.4 Basketball Phrases – Tabé Ugásnoⁿ Shkádai-tʰe Úwatha
            6.5 Ceremonial Ball Toss – Tabé Óⁿtha Thétha
            6.6 Globe Toss Game – Áwa-kʰe-ta Né-a?
            6.7 “Múzhoⁿ Thishtóⁿ” Conjugation Activity
            6.8 Walnut and Corn Mush Story – Táge Washóⁿge Íutha
            6.9 Deck the Halls – Wíuga Nákoⁿ Tʰigthágtha
            6.10 What did Ned eat? Ned iⁿdádoⁿ thatʰé-a?
7 Mépahoⁿga – Spring
            7.1 Spring Months
            7.2 First Thunder – Lawrence Cook-akʰa Mépahoⁿga Uthái-tʰe
            7.3 Rainstick Activity with Weather Terms
            7.4 Spring Tree Ornaments
            7.5 Easter Phrases
            7.6 Dyeing Easter Eggs
            7.7 Hunting Eggs – Wéta Íthathe-a?
            7.8 Egg Salad Sandwiches/Deviled Eggs – Wéta Wamóⁿska Ubískabe/Wéta Uzí Ígahi
            7.9 Mushroom Search – Teníxa Ugthézhe Oⁿgúnai-tʰe
            7.10 Mushroom Student Worksheet and Games
            7.11 Mushroom Worksheet
            7.12 Fried Mushrooms – Teníxa Ugthézhe Zhézhi
            7.13 How the Omahas Got the Corn – Té-akʰa Umóⁿhoⁿ-ma Wahába-tʰe Wa’í-biama
            7.14 Put up the Tipi – Timóⁿgthe
            7.15 Kickball – Tabé Noⁿtʰá
            7.16 Earth Day/Mother Earth – Íⁿnoⁿha Tóⁿde
            7.17 Standing Bear Speech – MaⁿchʰúNazhiⁿ Íya-biama
            7.18 Mother’s Day Phrases
            7.19 Flower Pot/Flower Planting – Waxchá Úzhi
            7.20 Eating-Out Script
            7.21 What will you do in the summer? Moⁿshté-ki iⁿdádoⁿ shkáxe-taniⁿkshe?
            7.22 Graduation Phrases
8 Additional Resources
            8.1 Writing System Extension – Umóⁿhoⁿ Íye-tʰe Áwatʰegoⁿ Baxú-noⁿ, “How It Is Written in Umóⁿhoⁿ”
            8.2 Umóⁿhoⁿ Resource List
            8.3 ULCC Glossary in Macy Standard Orthography: Umóⁿhoⁿ to English
            8.4 ULCC Glossary in Macy Standard Orthography: English to Umóⁿhoⁿ

Part 2: Lessons from the Omaha Language Class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
9 Cultural Lessons by Mark Awakuni-Swetland
9.1 What is Culture, What is Language
9.2 First Catch, First Fruits
9.3 How to Ask Someone for Help
9.4 Knife and Fire
9.5 The Spirit World
9.6 Food and the Spirits
9.7 Arriving and Leaving an Umóⁿhoⁿ Camp Site
9.8 First Thunders
9.9 The Four Hills of Life
9.10 Generosity and Gift Giving
9.11 Carrying Dishes to a Feast
9.12 Storytelling
9.13 The Omaha Handgame: Íⁿˀutʰíⁿ, “Strike the Stone”
10 Introduction and Phonology
            10.1 Welcome
10.2 Siouan Languages
10.3 Omaha Sounds: Oral Vowels and h
10.4 Omaha Sounds: Nasals
10.5 Omaha Sounds: Stops
10.6 Omaha Sounds: Fricatives
10.7 Omaha Sounds: Affricates
10.8 Omaha Sounds: Semivowels and Ledh
10.9 Omaha Sounds: Glottals
10.10 Consonant Clusters
10.11 Vowel Length and Accent
11 Expressions and Word Order
            11.1 Nouns: “Who” and “What”
11.2 Verbs: What is Someone Doing?
11.3 Adjectives: Stative Verbs
11.4 Numbers: “How Many”
11.5 Unitary Utterances
11.6 Useful Omaha Expressions
11.7 Word Order: Noun-Noun
11.8 Word Order: Noun-Stative Verb
11.9 Word Order: Noun-Active Verb
11.10 Word Order: Verb Chaining
12 Demands and Ablaut
            12.1 Commands: The Particles a and ga
12.2 Commands: Ablaut
12.3 Plural Commands: i and Ablaut
12.4 Questions: a with no Ablaut
12.5 Third Person Statement of Action: Ablaut for Declaration
12.6 Negation: Ablaut Before “Not”
12.7 The Potential Particle tte
12.8 The Hearsay Particle Set bi ama
12.9 Signaling Demand in English and Omaha
13 Verb Conjugation
13.1 Affixed Pronouns: I and You Common Forms
13.2 Affixed Pronouns: I and You for Ledh Verbs
13.3 Affixed Pronouns: I and You for Verbs Beginning with Simple Stops
13.4 Affixed Pronouns: I and You for Verbs Beginning with Simple Stop g-
13.5 Affixed Pronouns: I and You for Old Glottal Stop Verbs and “say”
13.6 Affixed Pronouns: We
13.7 Person and Number of the Subject
13.8 Person and Number: Negation
13.9 Patient Affixed Pronouns
13.10 Patient Affixed Pronouns for ā-, í, and u- Verbs
13.11 Agent to Patient Affixed Pronoun Combinations
13.12 Subject Affixed Pronoun for Stative Verbs
14 Pronouns and Positionals
            14.1 Positionals: Inanimate
14.2 Positionals: Active Subject
14.3 Positionals: Animate
14.4 Articles
14.5 Future
14.6 Demonstratives: This and That
14.7 Demonstrative Pronouns
14.8 Emphatic Pronouns
14.9 Possessive Pronouns
15 Location, Motion, and Continuity
            15.1 Postpositions
            15.2 Positionals and Postpositions
            15.3 Location Nouns and Adverbs
            15.4 Verbs of Motion
            15.5 Verbs of Motion with the a- Prefix
            15.6 Return Verbs of Motion
            15.7 Conjugating Verbs of Motion
            15.8 Verb Chaining and Continuatives
            15.9 Positionals as Continuatives
            15.10 Declaration of Existence Using Positionals
16 Kinship and Causative Constructions
            16.1 Kinship: Grandparents and Grandchildren
            16.2 Kinship: Parents and Children
            16.3 Kinship: Siblings
            16.4 Kinship: Uncles and Aunts, Nieces and Nephews
            16.5 Kinship: Spouses and Inlaws
            16.6 Causatives: The Basic Construction with -the
            16.7 Conjugation of the Causative
            16.8 The Dative Causative: -kʰithe
            16.9 The Causative of Potentiality: -wathe
            16.10 Causatives and Kinship
17 Instrumental Prefixes
            17.1 Instrumental Prefixes: thi- “by hand”
            17.2 Instrumental Prefixes: tha- “by mouth”
            17.3 Instrumental Prefixes: noⁿ- “by foot”
17.4 Instrumental Prefixes: ba- “by pushing”
17.5 Instrumental Prefixes: bi- “by pressure” or “by blowing”
17.6 Instrumental Prefixes: ga- “by force”
17.7 Instrumental Prefixes: nā- “by fire”
17.8 Instrumental Prefixes: mā- “by cutting”
17.9 Instrumental Prefixes: mū- “by shooting”
18 Locative Prefixes and wa-
            18.1 The wa- Prefix
            18.2 The Instrumental ī- Prefix
            18.3 The Locative u- Prefix
18.4 Conjugation of Locative u- Verbs
18.5 The Locative ā- Prefix
            18.6 Conjugation of Locative ā- Verbs
            18.7 The Transitivizing í- Prefix
            18.8 Conjugation of Transitivizing í- Verbs
18.9 Combinations of Applicative ī and í- with Locative u- and ā- Prefixes
18.10 Combination of wa- with Locative u- and ā-, and ī-, and í- Verbs
19 Self Affixes and Datives
            19.1 The Possessive gi- Prefix
            19.2 The Suus gi- Prefix
            19.3 The Reflexive kki- Prefix
            19.4 The Victimized kke- Prefix and Evidential tʰe
            19.5 Dative gi̅- and -ī-
            19.6 Conjugation of the Dative
20 Answer Keys
21 UNL Glossary in UNL Orthography
            21.1 Umóⁿhoⁿ Orthography
            21.2 Umóⁿhoⁿ Alphabet
            21.3 UNL Glossary in UNL Orthography: Umóⁿhoⁿ to English
            21.4 UNL Glossary in UNL Orthography: English to Umóⁿhoⁿ

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