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

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

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August 2018


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January 2022


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October 2018


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August 2018


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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 used in this textbook—teaching the Omaha language through Omaha culture—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.

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.


"Taken as a whole, the volume represents an active guide to the intertwined language and culture of the Omaha people. It is an essential tool for anyone who wishes to begin the path to a fluency in the Omaha language as well as for others whose goals may be less ambitious, but who wish to know and appreciate the people of this important Native American nation."—Michael J. Smith, Nebraska History

“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


Guide for Readers                                                                                                                    

Contributors: Umóⁿhoⁿ Language and Culture Center, Umóⁿhoⁿ Nation Public School, and Omaha Language Instruction Team, University of Nebraska–Lincoln                                                                                                                    


Introduction by Mark Awakuni-Swetland, Wagōⁿze Ūthix̣ide                                                                                                                  

Part 1. Lessons from the Umóⁿhoⁿ Language and Culture Center, Umóⁿhoⁿ Nation Public School, Macy, Nebraska

1. Beginning Resources                                                                                                         

1.1 Writing System Quick Sheet: Umóⁿhoⁿ Íye-tʰe Áwatʰegoⁿ Baxú-Noⁿ                                                                                                                           

1.2 Articles                                                                                                        

1.3 Elders’ Verb Patterns                                                                                                       

2. Situation Quick Sheets                                                                                                                      

2.1 Guide to Using 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 Phrases                                                                                                        

2.6 Classroom Phrases for Action Verbs                                                                                                           

2.7 Classroom Phrases for Asking and Talking: Wémoⁿxe tʰe, Íye Uthá                                                                                                             

2.8 Classroom Phrases for Beginning of Class                                                                                                            

2.9 Classroom Phrases for Ending/Leaving: Aíathai-ki Uthá                                                                                                             

2.10 Classroom Phrases for Places and Movement                                                                                                   

2.11 Classroom Phrases for Praise and Caring: Óⁿxtiwathe, Wathánoⁿbe, Wákʰihide Uthá                                                                                                             

2.12 Classroom Phrases for Teaching: Wégoⁿze-doⁿ Uthá                                                                                                             

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-Answering Phrases for See You Later, Greetings                                                                                                     

2.21 Five Senses: Wíubesni Sátoⁿ                                                                                                            

2.22 Baking a Cake: Wamóⁿske Skíthe Oⁿgúhoⁿi-tʰe                                                                                                                

2.23 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: 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 1                                                                                                                   

2.33 Handgame Worksheet 2                                                                                                                   

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: 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 Actions and the Four Hills of Life Wellness Center: Niyé Thiⁿgé Tí-adi Wágazhi, Pahé Dúba Níta Moⁿthíⁿ                                                                                                        

3. Games: Úshkade                                                                                                                   

3.1 Games How-To                                                                                                                

3.2 Card Game Play Phrases: Wathíbaba Íshkade Uthá                                                                                                             

3.3 Boardgame Play Phrases: Zhoⁿbtháska Áshkade Uthá                                                                                                             

3.4 Ballgame Play Phrases: Tabé Íshkade Uthá                                                                                                             

3.5 Go Fish Phrases: Hugási Moⁿthiⁿ-a/ga Uthá                                                                                                             

3.6 An Umóⁿhoⁿ Card Game: Tóⁿkawe                                                                                                       

3.7 Real Estate Boardgame Phrases                                                                                                        

3.8 Grandma Says: Thikóⁿ Áthigazhi                                                                                                     

3.9 Natural Body Action/Total Physical Response                                                                                                     

3.10 I’m Sorry: Uthúama                                                                                                      

3.11 Pokeno Phrases: Pokeno Uthá                                                                                                             

3.12 You’re in Trouble Phrases: Píazhi Shkáxe Uthá                                                                                                             

3.13 It Will Fall Phrases: Uxpáthe-taakʰa Uthá                                                                                                             

3.14 Twist and Bend Your Body: Zhú Thibéni                                                                                                        

3.15 Blackjack Phrases: Gthéboⁿ Noⁿbá Kʰi Édi Wiⁿóⁿxchi Uthá                                                                                                             

3.16 Darts Phrases: Móⁿdehi Óⁿtha Thétha/ga Uthá                                                                                                             

3.17 Badminton/Racquetball: Wazhíⁿga Zhiⁿga Utʰíⁿ-a/ga                                                                                                              

3.18 Jump Rope and Tug-of-War Phrases: Házhiⁿga U’óⁿsisi, Házhiⁿga Thidóⁿ Uthá

4. Summer: Nugé Moⁿshté                                                                                                                   

4.1 “Taps” Song and Memorial Day                                                                                                              

4.2 Names of 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 1, 2, and 3 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: Háthe, Moⁿshté                                                                                                       

4.10 Umóⁿhoⁿ Flag Song                                                                                                            

4.11 Húthuga: Wayne Tyndall-akʰa Húthuga Uthái-tʰe                                                                                                                

4.12 Harvest Celebration: Hédewachʰi/Hethúshka                                                                               

4.13 Harvest Celebration Phrases: Hédewachʰi/Hethúshka Uthá                                                                         

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