What is an Omaha Indian?

Shawn S. Lealos

An Omaha Indian is a member of the Omaha Tribe, a Native American tribe that is based in Nebraska and whose name means "against the current." The Omaha Tribe originally was located just west of what is now known as the Missouri River, and it moved farther west every eight to 15 years before making their way to the land that is now Nebraska. The tribe has its own government made up of elected tribal members, and it has its own police and other services. A typical Omaha Indian now speaks English, but some elders still speak the Omaha-Ponca language.

Omaha, Indian agriculture included maize production.
Omaha, Indian agriculture included maize production.

For many years, members of the Omaha Tribe were hunters and planters, depending on the season. The responsibility of a Omaha Indian men was to clear fields so that the women could do the planting. The basic Omaha Indian crops consisted of maize, melons, squash and beans. The men did the hunting, killing bears, buffalo, deer and small mammals as well as fish and birds.

Omaha Indians hunted deer and other game as a source of food.
Omaha Indians hunted deer and other game as a source of food.

Members of the early Omaha Tribe normally lived in tepees during the summer hunting months and lodges during the winter. The Omaha women built the tepees out of buffalo skin. The lodges were about 8 feet (2.4 m) high and had a room shaped like a dome.

The Omaha tribe is generally associated with the state of Nebraska.
The Omaha tribe is generally associated with the state of Nebraska.

The Omaha Tribe was slow in discovering the usefulness of horses. The Omaha normally traveled by foot while using dogs to aid in transportation. After the Omaha discovered the horse, they used it extensively for hunting, hauling and going to war.

Omaha men hunted buffalo and Omaha women built teepees out of buffalo skin.
Omaha men hunted buffalo and Omaha women built teepees out of buffalo skin.

The Omaha style of dress consisted of leggings made out of buckskin and embroidered shirts. They also wore moccasins. The men kept their hair long and wore earrings.

The tribe numbered almost 3,000 members in 1780. It dwindled to 300 members by 1802 because of illness and warfare. The powerful Pawnee Nation served as the protectors of the Omaha Tribe.

The explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered the Omaha Tribe in 1804. Following Clark's recommendation, the French set up a trading post in Omaha territory in 1812. During the next 20 years, the Omaha tribe developed friendly relations with whites, specifically the pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, who traveled through the Omaha's land on their way to Utah in the 1850s.

In 1854, the Omaha Tribe sold its hunting grounds in Nebraska to the United States government for $850,000 US Dollars. That same year, the U.S. developed the Omaha Indian Reservation in Nebraska. The reservation covers about 12,400 acres (50 square km).

The Omaha lived in tepees during the summer hunting months.
The Omaha lived in tepees during the summer hunting months.

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Discussion Comments


Nice article! Just one thing to add -- there was a definite division of labor within the Omaha Tribe. The men took care of all the hunting and fishing. The men also cleared the fields. Women were responsible for the planting, care of the crops, and the harvest. They constructed the tepees, and I presume they did the cooking, cleaning and child care.

This division of labor seems pretty even, although I think the women actually did more. But the men's work was more dangerous, if you consider they were the warriors.


I have never known very much about the Omaha Indian Tribe. There are so many Native American tribes in the United States. I recently saw a list of all the Indian tribes and I was surprised to see just how many there were.

I'm curious to know if the Omaha Indians lost a battle with the U.S. Army before they sold their hunting grounds. Or did they just negotiate a sale with the government?

So many of the tribes fought to keep their native land, but ended up losing many tribe members and having their land just taken from them. That was so unfair.


I have never heard of the Omaha Indian tribe besides their association with Lewis and Clark and the naming of the city of Omaha after them. I have to wonder that because they were such a small tribe if they integrated into other tribes to keep their tribe from being lost to history.

I feel like maybe their importance to history allowed them to be more recognized and maybe even allowed them to be protected by the Pawnees.

One thing that I do find interesting is that they had very good relations with whites and most specifically the Mormons. This is very rare for the Plains Indians to adapt to Mormon culture and be able to accept their ideas and beliefs. This is unlike many tribes in the Plains and is definitely something to consider since they were a small tribe that has been written a lot about in history by white historians.


I think that because of their association with Lewis and Clark and that they lived in tee pees the Omaha tribe were a group of people that were associated with the Plains Indians and those who dwelled in tee pees.

This could be the reason why the city of Omaha was given the name that it did and why this tribe lives in immortality for having a major city named after them.


@Izzy78 - I remember reading about the Omaha tribe while I was in high school and their chance meeting with famous explorers Lewis and Clark. I could not believe that the tribe only numbered about three hundred and the tribe was way on a downward spiral to near non existence.

Despite the small number of people in this tribe they are always associated with a famous event in American history and have a very major city named after them. Maybe this goes to show it may not always be what you contributed to history, but where you were at and what you were associated with.


I have heard about the Omaha Indian tribe and have always wondered why they have not been studied much throughout history despite having some rather historic run ins with famous explorers.

I think that it may have something to do with the fact that the tribe was nearly wiped out by the early 1800's and this was around the time when explorers started to catalog information on the major Indian tribes and start to pay attention to them.

Three hundred people in the tribe by 1800 makes it seem to me like they were an Indian tribe on a downward spiral and that the Lewis and Clark meeting was the only thing that allowed them to be recognized and known by people across the country and allowed them to not be forgotten by history.


At least once a year I travel across the state of Nebraska on my way to Colorado. It is not unusual to see tepees reminiscent of the Omaha Indians in places along the way.

I have seen some of these close up and there is more room inside than it looks like from the outside. Some of them are furnished more elaborately than I thought, but most of them are also very simple.

Either way, this is not someplace I would like to live year round. Nebraska gets some pretty cold and snowy winters and I don't know how hard it would be to stay warm in a tepee.

I have not actually been on the Omaha Indian Reservation, but have seen bits of history and artifacts that are associated with this tribe of people.

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