The Significance of Life to the Omaha. 1


FOR twenty-nine years Miss Alice Fletcher has been studying the Omaha, and her monograph of the tribe is now published in the twenty-seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Her collaborator for most of this time was Mr. Francis La Flesche (the son of Joseph La Flesche, former principal chief of the tribe), who in his boyhood witnessed some of the ceremonies described in the memoir, which were later explained to him by his father and by the old men who were the keepers of these ancient rites and rituals. When Miss Fletcher first went to live among the Omaha, the tribe had recently been forced to abandon hunting owing to the sudden extinction of the herds of bison. All the men and women had participated in the old life, many of the ancient customs were practised, and much of the aboriginal life still lingered. The environment was changing quickly; all that they formerly had relied on as stable had been swept away; the bison, which they had been taught was given them as an inexhaustible food supply, had been destroyed by agencies new and strange; even the wild grasses that had covered the prairies were changing. Great unrest and anxiety had come to the people through the Government's dealings with their kindred, the Ponca tribe, and fear haunted every Omaha fireside lest they, too, be driven from their homes and the graves of their fathers. The future was a dread to old and young” Thanks to the strenuous efforts of Miss Fletcher on their behalf, a law was enacted in 1882 granting lands in severalty, and prospective citizenship. In 1802 the Omaha were reduced to about 300 by smallpox; twenty-seven years later they were said to number iqoo; in 1906 the population of the tribe was 1228. The past is overlaid by.a thriving present. The old Omaha men and women sleep peacefully in the hills while their grandchildren farm beside their white neighbours, send their children to school, speak English, and keep bank accounts.


  1. 1

    Twenty-seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1905–6. Pp. 672. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911.)

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