Indian girls in Omaha

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The title of this monumental work describes its authors as, "Alice C. The authors combined an intimate insider's knowledge of Omaha language and ceremony with an outsider's view of the culture as a whole. Studying this book is almost infinitely rewarding.

It is sufficiently detailed to permit the reader to learn from it in an Indian way by formulating questions and then returning to the tradition for answers. It celebrates the connections between myth, ceremony, and personal experience. The Omaha came to their present location along the middle Missouri River from a place that was "near a large body of water, in a wooded country where there was game" Fletcher and La Flesche Throughout the historic period they moved extensively.

Even after taking up residence in earth lodge villages copied from those of the other Missouri River tribes, the Omaha continued to move as a single tribal unit during the annual buffalo hunt. Their camp circle, the Huthuga , was divided into northern and southern moieties called sky people and earth people.

It was open to the east like the tipi of a single family. During their existence as buffalo hunters the Omaha represented their tribal identity by a Sacred Pole that was carried from camp to camp by a priest or "Keeper," selected from a particular group within the Leader clan.

Fletcher and La Flesche made the Omaha Sacred 38 Pole and its ceremonial traditions the centerpiece of their book. The Sacred Pole, like the Huthuga , represented the essence of Omaha identity. When the buffalo disappeared and the Omaha were forced to settle on a reservation, both the Pole and the Huthuga became inappropriate symbols of tribal unity.

The Omaha turned away from the Pole, but not from the sense of a common identity it symbolized. They thought it best to allow the Pole to be buried with its last Keeper, the great orator named Shudenachi Smoked Yellow. Fletcher and La Flesche believed that if the Pole were buried with its last traditional Keeper, rather than being put on display in the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, "the full story of the tribe would be forever lost, for that story was as yet imperfectly known, and until these sacred articles, so carefully hidden from inspection, could be examined it was impossible to gain a point of view whence to study, as from the center, the ceremonies connected with these articles and their relation to the autonomy of the tribe" Fletcher and La Flesche In they persuaded Shudenachi to give the Pole to the Peabody Museum.

With the Pole on its way to the "great brick house" in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the anthropologists wished to obtain the sacred story of its origin. They returned to Smoked Yellow and persuaded him to tell them the story which normally would be told only to the Keeper who would succeed him. Iron Eye assured Smoked Yellow that he would "cheerfully accept for himself any penalty that might follow the revealing of these sacred traditions" Fletcher and La Flesche The Sacred Pole and the story of its origin symbolized the coherence and integrity of a People.

The old Keeper knew that these symbols were losing their power. He knew that the Omaha faced a serious challenge to their identity. Iron Eye knew also that the tribe would never again live according to the ancient communal order of the buffalo hunt. He led the "young men's faction" that advocated allotment of lands to individual families.

He and his followers built frame houses in an area of the reservation called "the village of the make-believe whitemen. In the end, it was Iron Eye, the "progressive" chief, who gave his life for the transfer of the Sacred Pole's story into the keeping of anthropology. Two weeks after hearing its story, Iron Eye lay dead in the very room where the transfer had taken place.

According to the old Keeper's story, the Pole came 39 into being as a sacred symbol at a time when, "a great council was being held to devise some means by which the bands of the tribe might be kept together and the tribe itself saved from extinction" Fletcher and La Flesche At the same time, the young son of a Chief was lost in the forest. During the night, he looked up to find his place in relation to the "motionless star," the pole star.

Where the world axis thus defined touched the earth, he discovered a luminous tree. His father, the chief, reported to the elders that:. The Omaha People looked to the Pole as the symbolic center of their identity. It stood for a "point of view as from the center" around which their world turned. It passed out of Omaha life when it became an ethnological specimen in the Peabody Museum.

As an ethnological specimen in a glass case, it came to represent the Omaha Tribe only to outsiders. The buffalo disappeared from Omaha life in the s. Without the buffalo, the tribe was no longer able to renew the Pole in the annual or bi-annual world renewal ceremony called Waxthexe xigithe , "the Sacred Pole to tinge with red.

We would call the Pole's origin story a "myth. It tells of essential rather than contingent truth. Its events reflect universal patterns of relationship between the social and the natural order rather than the particular happenings of a single time and place. In order to understand Indian history, the scholar must become familiar with the conventions of a symbolic language that was and continues to be enacted in the tribe's ritual order. The story tells about a young man's vision quest and the compassion bestowed upon him by "Night, the great mother force" Fletcher and La Flesche It tells of his discovery of a luminous tree where Thunder Birds nest beneath the "motionless star" around which all others turn.

The Sacred Pole is called Waxthexe. According to Fletcher and La Flesche, Xthexe means, "mottled as by shadows. Fletcher and La Flesche say that, "The name of the Pole, Waxthexe , ifies that the power to give the right to possess this 'Mark of Honor' was vested on the Pole The des tattooed on the girl were all cosmic symbols" Fletcher and La Flesche The mark on the young woman's forehead symbolized the sun at its zenith, "from which point it speaks," and its life-giving power passes through her body and out into the camp circle.

The mark on her chest was a four-pointed star radiating from a perfect circle. According to Fletcher and La Flesche, the sun- stood for "the noise of teeming life moving over the earth. These tools were said to represent the union of work done by men and women. The servers of the ceremony pricked the tattoo's pigment into her skin with flint points bound to rattlesnake rattles.

Fletcher and La Flesche present the Pole's origin story and the rites surrounding the "Mark of Honor" in different sections of the ethnography, yet it is clear from their comments that the two are complementary. They are, in fact, a single symbol of Omaha identity. The name shared by the Pole and the Mark of Honor indicates their common identity. Their ritual and symbolic associations indicate their complementarity.

The origin story is about the initiatory experience of a chief's son. The tattoing ritual describes the complementary initiation of a chief's daughter. A Chief's son discovered Waxthexe beneath the star around which all others turn. The trails of game animals converged upon it, creating an image of the world's quarters and directions. The Huthuga itself was a great circle upon which the trails of animals converged. The burning center of the young man's vision could be seen only during the dark hours of night, just as the star that marks the center of the heavens is visible only at night.

A Chief's daughter received the Mark of Honor after the morning fire had died to ashes. She lay on a bed of fine robes, facing west "for, being emblematic of life, she had to lie as if moving with the sun. The tattooing ceremony aligned sun- and star- with the young woman's body. When the sun came into line with the tattooed marks, the people chanted a song whose words mean literally:. The sun the round sun Comes—speaks—says The sun the round sun Comes—speaks—says The sun the round sun Comes—speaks—says The sun the round sun Comes—speaks—says The sun the round sun Yonder point The sun the round sun Comes—speaks—says.

These words mean, "Night moves, it passes and the day is coming" Fletcher and La Flesche The young woman received the sun's power when she was at a point on the earth's surface directly between the earth's center and the highest point in the sun's heavenly arc.

Her complement, the young man in the origin story, received his power by recognizing the star around which all others turn. Both boy and girl came into contact with powers beyond themselves when they were centered in ceremony. Through them, the tribe as a whole became centered. One single center may be found in many places. The Pole was a center that travelled as the people travelled. The Mark of Honor worn by a young woman was also such a center. The young man found his center burning beneath the steady star around which the star-world reeled as he watched it, amazed, through the night.

The young woman found hers in the sound of all living things like a great wind aligned with her body between earth and sky, at the center of the Huthuga. Vision comes through a shift in perspective. The young man's lonely vigil through the night showed him how stars circle around a single point of light among their multitude. The tree beneath that central star burned itself into his mind. The night force and his isolation 42 revealed this sky-world to him. The young woman gained her shift in perspective by day, when the sun was at the highest point in its arc. During the tattooing she, "strove to make no sound or outcry" Fletcher and La Flesche The sharp rattle of the serpent-tailed flint, "representative of the teeming life that 'moves' over the earth," wrote its ature on her silence.

Even the sun as it 'moves,' it is said, 'makes a noise,' as does the living wind in the trees" Fletcher and La Flesche The four points of the tattooed star stood for, "the life giving winds into the midst of which the child was sent through the ceremony of Turning the Child" Fletcher and La Flesche The symbols of night and day were aligned with the young woman's face, her body, even the part in her hair.

Indian girls in Omaha

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Empowerment of North American Indian Girls