Omaha is one of five languages in the Dhegiha branch of the Siouan language family. In 1994, the Omaha Tribe stated that less than 1% of their total enrollment was identified as fluent speakers of Omaha. It is reported that less than seventy elderly speakers of the language remain and that of these, only thirty use the language on a daily basis in the Macy area of Nebraska. There are several reservation institutions that teach Omaha, namely the Macy public school (recently renamed Omaha [Umónhon] Nation Public School — UNPS) and Nebraska Indian Community College (NICC). However, all suffer from the lack of a systematic curriculum, associated classroom materials, and native speakers trained in language instruction. NICC wishes to develop a more rigorous language curriculum, so as to provide their Omaha students with greater ability to transfer credits to other post-secondary institutions.
In 2000 the Omaha Language Curriculum Development Project (OLCDP) was conceived as a multi-component, collaborative effort to address these needs. The OLCDP was initiated by Mark Awakuni-Swetland at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), Department of Anthropology-Geography and the Institute for Ethnic Studies (Native American Studies). It has been further developed by the creative ideas of the UNL Omaha language instruction team and the UNPS Umónhon Language and Culture Center team. Sustained resources and funding come from the Department of Anthropology-Geography, Institute for Ethnic Studies, Native American Studies, and the Awakuni-Swetland family. Omaha language students and the UNL native speakers routinely contribute resources and funding to this effort.
The OLCDP proposes to support the development of language and culture lesson plans, craft culturally relevant immersion situations, and to produce language exercises, games, drills, and language lab audio tapes. The project draws upon curriculum materials being created at UNL and UNPS, and native speaker resources in both communities. Since its inception in 2000, the following activities and materials have emerged:
The development of the first lesson plans for the 2000-2002 cohort of UNL Omaha language students was supported by an Endangered Language Fund (ELF), from Yale University, Department of Linguistics. Introductory lessons in phonetics, vocabulary building, syntax, grammar, and cultural topics were developed. Card games, verb dominoes, material culture projects, and other hands-on activities sparked student interest and made for lively class sessions. ELF Funds also supported the work of Alberta Grant Canby and Emmaline Walker Sanchez as native speakers and translators in the classroom.
UNL students in the 2000-2002 cohort learned how to prepare a selection of common Omaha foods. The preparation instructions were translated into the Omaha language, vetted by UNL and UNPS native speakers, and then published in a small booklet. A pronunciation guide, glossary, and interlinear English glosses make this recipe book a valuable language and culture teaching aid. Illustrations were commissioned from students in the UNPS art program, under the direction of Denine Parker, and purchased with funds from a UNL Diversity Enhancement grant.
Students involved in the recipe book included: Katie Morgan, Tony Schommer, Rory Larson, Dianne Bower, John Gapp, Seth Lambert, Natalie Luben, Debra Richards, Stacey Sanchez, Zac Wiles, and Tamara Levi. Tamara served as the production coordinator and assistant instructor in spring 2002. Rory Larson compiled the glossary. UNL speakers were Alberta Grant Canby and Emmaline Walker Sanchez. The instructor was Mark Awakuni-Swetland. Additional assistance was provided by Elaine Canby. UNPS speakers were Oliver and Marcela Cayou
UNL students in the 2002-2004 cohort learned how to assemble a 14 foot canvas tipi. They compiled detailed instructions and translated them into the Omaha language with the assistance of the UNL Omaha language instruction team. Because the assembling of a tipi has become a male-centered duty connected with Native American Church activities, we are awaiting the opportunity to have the instructions vetted by male elder speakers. The initial translation was supported by funding from a UNL Diversity Enhancement grant.
Students involved in the tipi instruction project included: Megan Merrick, Michael Hammons, Jessica Waite, Andrew Pedley, Kurt Kinbacher, Wynne Summers, Carrie Wolfe, Sara Anderson, Elaine Nelson, Loren Frerichs, and Matt Shumacher. UNL native speakers were Alberta Grant Canby and Emmaline Walker Sanchez. The assistant instructor was Rory Larson. The instructor was Mark Awakuni-Swetland.
A 19 th century Omaha bedtime story
2002-2004 Omaha language students involved in the Two Faces transcription and translation project included: Megan Merrick, Michael Hammons, Jessica Waite, Andrew Pedley, Kurt Kinbacher, Wynne Summers, Carrie Wolfe, Sara Anderson, Elaine Nelson, Loren Frerichs, and Matt Shumacher. UNL native speakers were Alberta Grant Canby and Emmaline Walker Sanchez. The assistant instructor was Rory Larson. The instructor was Mark Awakuni-Swetland.
2004-2006 Omaha language students involved in recording the Two Faces story included:
The melody for one song lacking musical notation was scored by John Mangan at Umónhon Nation Public School and Chi-Wen Hsiao, a UNL Music Graduate student. The keyboard artist is Jen Garrett. The digital recording engineer is Mark Petro from the New Media Center at UNL
A collaborative UNL/UNPS multi-year project to develop a comprehensive teaching dictionary. Initial funding for this project comes from the UNL Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence program (2005-2006).
A collection of first year lesson plans for teaching beginning Omaha language and culture classes. A collaborative UNL/UNPS project. Initial funding to develop the textbook comes from the UNL Layman Fund, for work in the calendar year 2006.