Action research and Grandfather Remembers—by Dennis Hastings and Margery Coffey, Omaha Tribal Historical Research Project, Inc. (OTHRP), July 2009
Writing a specific people’s history is a large undertaking even when the overall population of the targeted group is relatively small, comparatively. The following four points of action research was the starting place for Grandfather Remembers. 1
- 1. Is exploratory
- 2. Is reflective
- 3. Is inquisitive
- 4. Engagement involves looking beyond oneself, as well.
Each of these points are necessary when crossing into another culture as well as when dealing with a familiar one. The research methods listed above were all used by Grandfather Remembers.
Grandfather Remembers’ research began with an exploratory search to determine what resources were available. Library research started with Hastings’ and Coffey’s own personal libraries collected separately over a lifetime of working on both Indian problems and specific Omaha history and issues. Hastings had collected an amazing amount of material from a variety of sources that augmented the actual book materials both of them had found. It included unpublished papers from a variety of colleges as well as published and unpublished works by specific Omaha such as Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte and her half-brother. Dr. Francis La Flesche, Esq. There were newspaper clippings, correspondence, material copied from school files as well as rare Indian Movement books and booklets on both Alcatraz and Wounded Knee. Hastings had collected copies of historical maps, brochures and a wealth of notes in addition to at least a couple of thousand photographs both modem and historical.
Hastings had researched professionally gathered photos and resources on the Omaha in the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Museum of the American Indian—
Heye Foundation, Peabody Museum at Harvard University, the libraries at Hampton VA, Berkeley CA, Lincoln, and Omaha NE and almost all points in between.
Coffey had not only worked at the New York Public Library’s Card Catalog Division in her youth but also had spent six weeks on a Newberry Library Fellowship grant in Chicago for her MA studying their Omaha and the Five Cognate Tribes’ collection. She had taken a close look at the listings of the Omaha holdings in both the Field Museum in Chicago and the Museum of the American Indian—Heye Foundation.
Both Hastings and Coffey had notes from their research at all of those above-mentioned institutions that now became the base as well as their own combined libraries of more than 300 volumes on Plains Indians upon which to weave a history. As a professional artist, Coffey had accumulated several hundred volumes each of books on art: historic, multicultural and multi-gender; and nature: prairie flora and fauna specifically. Hastings had two four-drawer file cabinets that had overflowed into four boxes, all full of potential material on his tribe.
In addition, there was the Internet. Anything they were lacking was just a click of the fingers away. It gave both modem news information and historical facts as well as military records and scientific explanations. There were both text and graphic images available. For two scholars located in the back regions of a prairie state, this was manna from heaven. It filled in missing gaps and corrected their memories as well as allowing them to communicate with people across distances.
The Omaha were one of the most studied of tribes and therefore well documented. The historic anthropological standard that birthed an academic industry, 27 th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1905-1906 by Alice C. Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, was the obvious place to start. Hastings and Coffey worked both forward and backward from that point, reaching back through time with archeological studies for the prehistory period. Later government records, school reports, and newsletters were used to follow careers and the early newspapers locally, regionally, and nationally.
Hastings had a long history of talking with his people. Oral tradition was also an important research component. He was inquisitive about all things Omaha: the language, experiences, history, cultural knowledge, relationships, and politics. It was very important for him to find out where people were at and what they knew. Hastings had left the tribal community as a child. It was the teachings of his greatgrandmother, Mary Burt Hastings, at a formative age that caused his return years later as an educated adult. He needed to reconnect as well as understand. By using his skills as a researcher, he was able to delve into tribal knowledge to augment his own understanding of the same from the teachings of his great-grandmother. His activity with tribal institutions integrated his background and knowledge with the reality of his people.
Based upon what Hastings learned through his research with the tribe, he was able to pick projects that were relevant to the tribal culture. Once involved with a given project, new information from the actual doing of projects emerged. For instance, the Wax Cylinder Project brought back historical songs to the tribe, many of which had been forgotten. The first voice Hastings heard from the cylinders was that of his great-grandfather. Such a moment transcends all the work involved. At the same time, the cylinders disintegrated after they had been rerecorded which certainly proved that the timing was correct in doing the labor.
Another project Hastings initiated was the public display of quality historical photographs. This Historical Picture Project had already been started by Hastings when Coffey joined his work. With her Photoshop skills, the project expanded far beyond the original 17 photographs Hastings had divided between both the Macy school and the local health center. With each addition to the community, excitement grew among tribal people as relatives were both recognized and speculated. Non-tribal people were drawn to the photographs as well. There are now over 100 historic photographs displayed in public places on the reservation.
Hastings and Coffey slowly established a workable communication system between them. When in public, Coffey became the spokesperson with Hastings inteijecting commentary along the way. This is a typical way for tribal people to teach. A teacher must have full confidence in a student to have the student recite in public, especially in a spontaneous setting.
Afterwards Hastings would sit down with her over a cup of coffee and they would discuss her presentation, his comments, and the reactions they had gotten. Overtime, this built a collaborative understanding between them based upon common experiences. Such engagement involves looking beyond oneself, as well as being honest in one’s own evaluation.
It was this sort of established action research preparation that Hastings and Coffey utilized within their creative work. The manuscript was written one step at a time because it was necessary for Coffey to familiarize herself with the written material first. She would read and then ask questions or respond to points that Hastings would bring up for discussion. Coffey would write the basic text based upon their discussions and the materials at hand. Hastings would edit it where necessary to make it culturally correct. Sometimes they would work out the phrasing by carefully picking the right words together to make sure a difficult concept would be understood by a reader.
Since it was not Coffey’s culture nor her people, Hastings’ expertise was the final word, but very rarely did it come to that. Coffey had spent a lot of time working within the community before she started work with Hastings, particularly in studying the language. She had also spent a great deal of time studying the prairie and had a full art background. Hastings would defer to her expertise in these things but felt free to express his ideas within them as well. His own keen artistic eye and cultural understanding would find solutions to visual problems as well as Coffey’s.
Hastings and Coffey were united in purpose. They understood that Grandfather Remembers was what the Omaha community really needed and that such an undertaking would further their own work in the field at the same time it satisfied the school requirement. Coffey started with the land since that was an integral part of the Omaha psyche. She and Hastings had both grown up with the generation that still walked the prairie. Love of the land was a very necessary ingredient.
Most people are not familiar with the high plains and especially the Nebraska sector. Seeing the prairie along 1-80, which follows the very flat floodplain valley of the shallow but wide Platte River across the state, one would think that is all there is to this region. In actuality the state has a very diverse landscape with many rivers and creeks, each with their own personal signature bluffs, buttes, and gorges, as well as the unique sandhills and toadstool formations in the badlands. It was necessary to show the natural Nebraska in order to understand what the European influence upon the prairie had truly been over the short time they had been living on it.
Coffey understood early on that Euro-American history had to be a major theme as well in the Omaha history. Hastings agreed and suggested the photo albums as a necessary ingredient given the popularity of their picture project. With his ability to find interesting stories that were germane but not crucial to the text, the boxes were added to give a bit of entertainment while serving as informative relief to the main text. Both agreed that all the treaties had to be included verbatim. Coffey, who had a background in creating collage art, began to weave the story line as a visual/verbal collage that slowly revealed the history from the Omaha point of view.
The weaving of themes meant that Coffey had to continually go back over the manuscript to pull out several ideas that had their roots in one era and the repercussions of that given moment reverberating down the centuries. Standing Bear’s trial involved people who were already affecting change in the Indian world years before the trial. The friendship between Francis La Flesche and Alice C. Fletcher became possible due to the result of the trial. Another example was William Peebles playing fast and loose on the frontier long before he illegally preregistered Omaha land for the town site of Pender. Additionally, the buffalo and the land had their own story to tell. All such themes and many more are threaded carefully into the story tapestry.
Coffey found that she had to suspend a lot of her own culture’s beliefs and teachings from both schools and churches that she had grown up with and had automatically accepted. One such case was the life of Robert Furnas, a governor of Nebraska and first president of the Nebraska State Historical Society. Reading the description published by the Nebraska State Historical Society one would have thought Furnas to have been a successful hardworking career man who used his hard work and Yankee ingenuity to further himself: a real self-made man. What they left out was the detail and ramifications from his brief stint as Indian Agent.
In spite of the meager salary as an Indian Agent, for the two years: 1864 to 1866, Furnas was able to not only fund his future livelihood from it—both a nursery business and a newspaper—but also his political ambitions; not likely for an honest man. In addition, he had thrown an Omaha Indian off his own reservation and arbitrarily ended the Omaha traditional government with Furnas’ own hand-picked “chiefs.” If the evaluation of only one culture was used to chronicle the man, it would give a skewed picture of his career, but using both cultures together, one understood exactly how Robert Furnas dealt within hrs own world by exploiting the ancient cultures differing from his own.
Suspending one’s belief system is very difficult to do. All of us are very fond of what we believe whether the facts support it or not. In fact, our entire life is wrapped around our belief systems so to work ourselves beyond it becomes difficult but not impossible. Belief systems are based on faith not facts. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It takes a conscious effort to rise beyond a belief system that tugs at one’s own emotions to see clearly how others view it.
This book is about showing history from an Omaha cultural point of view. There will be times when the reader is uncomfortable over the choice of words. This is the action result of the research. Sometimes the truth makes us very uncomfortable including real pain. Culture clash is a shock. It is a psychicshock of true change, which when worked through, creates illumination and clarity and when it blocks reason, the psychic shock produces severe pain. That is why it becomes such a problem. Wars are fought over it. It is a worldwide problem.
Culture shock was not a one-way road in this manuscript. Hastings, too, had to come to terms with some of his own beliefs as facts and figures about the European way of life for the common man were revealed by historical research. For instance, it puts into context the inability of the white world to see Indians as humans when it is known that at the same time, they did not see the physical abuse of their own children as wrong because they did not see them as human either.
Just as Standing Bear’s court case was necessary to prove that Indians were human, it took the newly formed (1874) Humane Society in NYC to mount a court case to bring the issue of children being human to a head by using the new anti-abuse animals law to cover the situation. If a society’s own children are not considered human, then it is more understandable that such a society could not see another culture as human—not acceptable but at least understandable. Since this particular period lay both within the world of slavery and the brand-new post-slavery one, it puts a whole new layer upon the thinking of that era towards anyone who was different from the European Protestant ruling class. That legacy is still active within American society today, in spite of court decisions.
Hastings and Coffey’s greatest strength was their ability to focus their work together on a common goal: to tell the history of the Omaha from the Omaha point of view as honestly as they knew how to do. The fact that both of them had independent careers in anthropolog}' and art as well as coastal experience (Hastings on the West Coast, Coffey in the East) on top of a rural Nebraska childhood gave them each a rich reservoir in which to delve and their grassroots experience and mutual love of the prairie, common ground.
The two biggest limitations experienced was lack of time and inability to revisit earlier research to revise or expand upon what was on hand due to lack of funding. This was particularly felt when critical research notes had been damaged by indiscriminating mice or sloppy Xeroxing by bored workers that cut off critical lines from important manuscripts whose originals were completely done in by the mice.
Piecing together the remains and agonizing editing gave them the base for the Feeding Frenzy section.
Hastings particularly felt the lack of time.
There are so many stories and we kept finding out new things as we worked. For example, after the dissertation was done, I came across a picture of the actual boat used to transport the Omaha across the Atlantic in World War I. Then I discovered more information about Father Schell, that he was bom in Germany and ended up being institutionalized in South Dakota for the remainder of his life, etc.
A project of this nature usually is one of many years of duration both in the research and the writing. While they were covered fairly well by their cumulative research over the years, it was Coffey’s ability to work almost non-stop on a project while Hastings continued the research via the Internet at almost the same pace that enabled them to complete it in a timely fashion.
There was no way that one could adequately state a people’s history of even a small tribe that would please everyone. Hastings and Coffey both understood this from the start. What they endeavored to do was to create a research book on Omaha history that could be used by the tribe as a basis for further studies. They touched on ever}' major part of the history that they knew about and illustrated it with photos and stories to weave a sense of the people and their land. With all of the reference notations it becomes a jumping off place for the serious student to explore in dozens of different directions. It is neither definitive nor is it complete, but it is a start and as a two-volume set, it is a proper companion piece to the 27th Annual Report written a hundred years ago by Fletcher and La Flesche.
Action research approach
It is one thing to think or plan and quite another to do. The following six points are a guideline to the action research approach as to the actual production of a grassroots book:”
- 1. Is collaborative and participatory.
- 2. Ideas as emergent involves writing and rewriting in one’s own voice.
- 3. Have a sense of the bigger picture.
- 4. Promotes telling and listening to stories as well as tangible examples. The preservation of thought, the way to record field notes, ethnographies, theories, and concepts, the validation of personal knowledge, all enter into it.
- 5. Concerned with human values and social justice gives content that adds to society’s body of knowledge.
- 6. Involves taking one’s own experiences and insights seriously, as a basis for thinking, writing, conversations with others, and larger action. The clarification of thought, the encouragement of communication with others, the format for dissemination and the proof of what one learns brings commitment to paper of ideas, values, philosophy.
Grandfather Remembers is both collaborative and participatory before and during its production. Within the papers completed for the PhD prior to tackling the dissertation Hastings and Coffey wrote on a variety of aspects that would ultimately appear within the text such as: “Lewis & Clark,” “Steamboats on the Missouri River,” “Hiram Chase, the Man and His Language” and the “Macy School Report.”
An earlier version of their “Lewis & Clark” paper had been published within the 198th He’dewachi booklet for the annual harvest dance of the Omaha in 2006. OTHRP submitted a copy of their paper for publication to UCLA American Indian Studies Center. It received a turndown accompanied by two anonymous critiques of the work, one that was simply rude and wrong and the other one was so vague as to be useless. So, Hastings and Coffey analyzed then critiqued the rejection, rewrote the article both expanding it and renaming it so it would more accurately reflect the contents which solved the one or two valid objections. The two versions together along with the commentary and correspondence became their paper.
“Steamboats on the Missouri” was a history of the old riverboats, including the number that sank and accounts of what it was like to be on one that did. Two commercial boats and one military steamboat sank within the reservation segment of the river. The paper looked at the way the Missouri River had been used, comparing such usage with modern usage. It included Coffey’s painting of Blackbird Bend landing with actual Omaha from an 1883 trip to Paris peopling the scene at the river dock which was based upon an engraved cartoon of the 19th century.
Hiram Chase, Esq. was the first Omaha to create a practical way of writing the language which he used in his law practice since most of his clientele spoke only Omaha and therefore he needed to take his notes in it. The paper looks at the man and the language. The Omaha language has been heavily studied with funding for state academia but not for Omaha speakers. As a result, there are many people who tried to figure out ways to write Omaha. Only two of them were Omaha: Hiram Chase and Francis La Flesche.
In 2007, Hastings and Coffey were asked to put together a workshop on the Omaha Culture and Language for the Umo"ho" Nation Public Schools in Macy. They created a workbook of resources, information, and teaching aids to give out to both faculty and staff along with a performance rating sheet by the participants. The entire project was then written up for WISR. This gave Hastings and Coffey a good practice run for the dissertation as well as direct feedback from the community.
All of these projects were excellent ways to test materials and reactions from the local community and those who worked within it.
Emergent ideas flowed from both the materials studied, the auxiliary papers written and the interactive experiences of both writers within the tribal community. Writing and rewriting in one’s own voice became a combination of Quaker simplicity and prairie pragmatism for Coffey. The Quaker influence from the ten years of work in the Northern Superintendency in the 1870s can still be found within the Omaha since it echoes a lot of what the Omaha already believed. The idea that everyone is equal along with Progressive Peace struck deep chords in both cultures. A simple approach to life also was there although it had been interpreted differently by friends from the Omaha. Hastings would add the appropriate Omaha touch.
Coffey was well read as far as the Euro-American-Nebraskan culture was concerned. Bess Streeter Aldrich, Willa Gather, Loren Eiseley, Wright Morris, John G. Neihardt and Mari Sandoz set a high standard in literature as well as formulating a prairie voice from Nebraska. Prairie pragmatism comes from the land as does Omaha theology. Living far from everything gives a certain perspective as one waits for the parts to come and makes do in the meantime. Being totally dependent directly upon the land at your feet for everything you own also enters into play.
Coffey took the Quaker ability of “speaking truth to power” which she learned directly from her monthly meetings and melded it with prairie pragmatism to came up with a direct voice that reflected both Hastings and her. It became a natural when dealing with the material and weaving all the different voices from quoted passages into one text.
Having a sense of the bigger picture was always present in their thinking. “How would tribe best use this information?” “What do we use that will educate and still be respectful of family ties?” After all they were not speaking of just historical figures. Many of those figures, hero, or deadbeat dad, were directly related to present-day Omaha.
By keeping one eye on the bigger picture, they avoided passing judgment on specific people unless their behavior was particularly bad. Walking away from one’s wife and children leaving them with no visible means of support was considered bad. Choosing to “Return to the Blanket” over the Euro-American’s racist society was not a judgment call. It was also recognized that humans are capable of both good and bad and usually do both. So, while they may have called someone on their bad behavior, they also praised the same individual for doing something really good as well. It was a rare individual that was either all bad or all good. Most of the judgment calls were left for the reader to make on their own.
In the same manner Hastings and Coffey dealt with the behavior of other tribes towards the Omaha which in some cases, were murderous and exploitive only to eventually become, in many cases, partnerships as well as cross-relationships. They chose to speak the truth as best as could be done about what happened in the past without condemning present individuals or tribes. The big picture in this case is the fact that in spite of everything, the Omaha survived.
By using a storytelling motif, Grandfather Remembers promotes the telling of stories as well as giving tangible examples. Such documentation preserves thought, theories, and concepts. It becomes the validation of personal knowledge in the process. As the use of the material by others in the tribe expands, long-standing problems can be addressed and understood. “We are using history to solve the problem.” Hastings explains.
Hastings recorded his field notes in a journal while Coffey used a stenographer’s pad. Ethnographies created by other scholars were consulted. New life was given to old material as personal writings of those who lived through the days of the early frontier were pulled back into service. Thomas Tibbles, A. P. DeMilt, and Judge Snow each understood their times as well as their own point of view and certainly gave a flavor to the period they were reporting.
Grandfather Remembers is concerned with human values and social justice that the Omaha tribe received from the dominant culture very sparsely, if at all. By framing historical events with their legal import, it gives content that adds to the greater society’s body of knowledge as well as the Omaha. Much information that was included was either buried on back shelves or so isolated that it seemed insignificant when in reality such bits and pieces of information became important pieces of the overall picture.
Hastings and Coffey bring to the scholarly process a hands-on, grassroots approach that has not been represented nor done by others in speaking of the Indian world, tribal specific. Combining the visual with the text in almost equal proportions is important to people who still think visually and to whom English is still a second language. If they could have managed it, Hastings and Coffey would have included a DVD with Omaha music and culture depicted to accompany the manuscript.
Hastings and Coffey took the story of the Omaha and elevated it as an example of how the Euro-American culture has used this same violent physical and psychological approach forged with the Native Americans to force their economic interests around the world taking over the path of exploitation first forged globally by the British Empire. This ties history to future actions showing graphically that when one does not understand history, they are doomed to repeat it.
The most important aspect of this work that truly charts new grounds is the creation of it within the tribal community showing that higher education is possible without leaving the reservation. Time will tell whether this one example will encourage others to do the same. Such an approach would bring higher education to a reservation that is weary of constantly losing their young population through boarding schools and colleges that strip culture from their Indian students.
The kind of background it takes to do the kind of research that was done for Grandfather Remembers is one of total emersion with the society one is studying. For Hastings it was a return to his roots, for Coffey it was a matter of finding out how to remember her own tribal roots from Europe, the British Isles and Ireland. This could only have been achieved by long-term study of a people over many years of directly interacting within their society. Hastings has spent 35 years in such studies while Coffey has been studying with the Omaha for 15 years. It takes that kind of dedication and dependence upon the studied society itself to truly understand the forces at work and their direct effect upon the people controlled by them.
Such life experiences contributed to the quality of the book by being able to understand the basis of the history studied. These grassroots methods are prime examples of participatory research that, once engaged, result in high quality understanding and meaningful interpretation. For example, Omaha spirituality cannot be understood without participating in sweat lodges or peyote meetings. Hastings and Coffey both have spent time with these activities.
Additionally, Hastings and Coffey have spent time employed by tribal agencies. As it happened, both taught classes at the Macy campus of the Nebraska Indian Community College, although not within the same time period. Coffey also taught at their Sioux City, IA campus which introduced her to the local Urban Indian world. These experiences in turn enabled their understanding of Indian economics on a practical level as well as even more interaction with the tribe itself.
For the conceptual student of another culture or their own, one must take one’s own experiences and insights seriously, as a basis for thinking, writing, conversations with others, and larger action. The clarification of thought, the encouragement of communication with others, the format for dissemination and the proof of what one learns ultimately brings a deeper commitment to the writing of a paper of ideas, values, and philosophy. Such personal absorption of both experience and studies enables the student to not only understand but also to communicate that which is understood.
Education should not be divorced from life experiences but should instead involve the student directly with them. Tribal education did just that. Euro-American education needs to understand that if the tools of the educational process cannot be directly used in the real world, there is no purpose for education to exist. One of the problems with Western education is that it isolates the institution from reality with its hierarchal structure and obsessive rules creating in its process useless documentation regurgitated and problems not properly understood thereby continuing mistakes of the past.
Time was a serious factor in a work the length of Grandfather Remembers. It was understood by both Hastings and Coffey that what they were proposing was far beyond what a “normal” dissertation would be. If cost were not a factor, they would have slowed down the process to a reasonable rate which would have allowed them to include more material. Of course, if that were true, it would have become a three or four volume set rather than two and would have taken ten years instead of two.
More time could have been spent in both the writing and the editing. Had they had funding to back their research, more research could have been done on all the sections. For instance, they could have gone to Carlisle’s records and researched them as thoroughly as Hastings had done the Hampton files. It would have helped to be able to check the other institutions: Wahpeton, Flandreau, Haskell, and Genoa not to mention the archived records of both the Presbyterians and Quakers.
More photographs could have been restored. As it was the restoration of photographs was a painstaking process even with technology or perhaps even more painstaking because of it. Pixel by pixel changes can change a person’s face from familiar to unfamiliar in an instant. Translating the edges of what you think you are seeing being used in the backgrounds can be exacting. Coffey learned about the people as she worked on the pictures. It was also a teaching in beadwork and shawl design.
Sometimes personal observations took on new meaning. Coffey studied a photograph of Dr. Susan Picotte for a formal painting, but it wasn’t until she looked at other pictures of the doctor that she understood that Dr. Picotte carried her head at a slightly odd angle. Recognizing it from having nursed her own youngest son through several years of chronic middle ear infection with his sporadic periods of inability to hear, she realized how deaf Dr. Picotte must have been all her life. How much more difficult schooling must have been for Dr. Picotte to have to deal with this problem on top of her own culture shock.
Hastings and Coffey understood that time was restrictive, so their approach was to set the book up as a resource book. It is far more than an annotated bibliography and yet not a complete history. It functions on multiple levels. It is the beginning of a long journey.
Further actions for thought and study
It is difficult to suggest actions that could possibly be successful in combating the problems set forth in Grandfather Remembers. The American courts only deal compromise not justice. The compromise is always for the Indian not the government. There is no real recourse there. The World Court or United Nations is the next logical step, but the United Nations is beholden to America and the World Court cannot enforce its judgments upon a country, certainly not one with the world standing that the United States has.
The best possible action is to take the Omaha case to the American public which has been much more understanding than the government. It was the American public that made Standing Bear’s victory possible even though it took more than 50 years to implement it. It was the Nebraska public that made the returning of Human Remains for Burial possible. The state institutions fought it tooth and nail.
If the United States were to undertake paying their debts to the Omaha with appropriate interest and damages, true economic development could be undertaken by the tribe. Land could be given back in lieu of cash. Restoration of the Reservation stolen lands is not impossible over time. Funding should be restructured so that government grants could be gotten without having to hire someone from the dominant culture with precious resource money in order to get a share of the pitiful handouts aimed at Indian communities. At the very least, grants could be automatically given to each Indian tribe for the express purpose of researching their history and language so that it could be incorporated into the school system starting with day care. Forcing tribes to constantly work through complicated grant writing in order to gain some money for purposes that may or may not fit the tribe’s true needs puts such funding opportunities out of the reach of most tribes and their tribal agencies.
Grandfather Remembers is the first step in reaching out in detail to the American and world population with the Omaha story. More needs to be done to educate everyone involved. Tribal Council in their endorsement resolution included the endorsement of creating a curriculum for the book in order to put it into the tribal schools and college. The Omaha story belongs in every school in Nebraska and the Plains states. As an American story it belongs in every library' in the country.
If the Tribal Museum can be built within the 21st century’s economic climate, it would be the ideal place to set up series of studies both for the tribe and visiting scholars and interested students. For instance, the whole legality of the railroad scene and its relationship with the tribe needs further work as does the gas lines and electric lines that run through the reservation. The mapping of all the important Omaha historical sites has yet to be done either on the reservation or in their former lands. Creating culturally appropriate literature for young Omaha students that could be used in Plains Indians Studies on a broader basis needs to be developed. Language courses in Chase, La Flesche, and Dorsey systems need to be done. The first one for usability, the last two because of the sheer amount of documentation of the language that exists in both. A user-friendly grammar book is needed.
As to more studies on the culture and language itself, this should be done by Omaha students not outsiders. There is much that can be found. Old designs in beadwork and ribbon work on old regalia and shawls are available in the photographs. Reintroducing these in a usable form would revitalize the He’dewachi into something that would more closely resemble what was uniquely' Omaha. Creating the arbors that once surrounded the drum circle would also help cool the arena in the summer heat of the prairie.
Serious studies of contrasting and comparing various types of government, educational approaches and economic development need to be done. Alternative ways in all three have been successful elsewhere and could be used on the reservation. Consensus government can work on the local scale; it is a modem form of what Native America once had. Cooperative approach to student learning instead of competitive would be much more appropriate and help resolve a lot of emotional problems of isolation and victimization.
Reorganizing the Clan structure would build cooperation between clans. If that were to happen, old clans with few members could take in clanless families so that the new system based upon the old one could work, or new clans formed within the clanless population. By dividing the work up between the divisions of the Omaha: Earth and Sky, cooperation is established. With Umonho“-ti: Sacred Pole back home again, the people of the pole would be complete, and healing could begin on a real scale.
Local skills need to be built within the Indian community so they could take care of themselves. Health issues need to be dealt with directly with improved food sources other than commodities which cause a lot of illnesses with their emphasis on white flour, bad cheese, white sugar, and over-processed foods. Alcohol and drug damage have to be faced and dealt with directly.
All these suggestions would help build self-esteem so that the Omaha could stop internalizing the oppressor and rebuild themselves in the same manner their forefathers and foremothers once did. A real stimulus package on this reservation would eliminate most of the problems since poverty truly is simply a lack of money that is forced on arbitrarily labeled groups of people within the American Dream turning it into a generational nightmare.
While it is too early to start fielding local reactions on a systematic basis, OTHRP has selectively handed sections of the work in progress, as it nears completion, to some of the locals on the reservation and interested parties beyond to review. Negative comments are as important as positive ones for the teachings involved. OTHRP does not reveal the sources of the comments other than a brief description that gives an indication as to the background of the speaker.
Tribal Council members have expressed a keen interest in the book especially the histories of the legal situations and treaties.
One young Omaha woman was very excited over it. “It fills in information that I was not taught in school, but I would hear the elders in my family talk about.”
In one case, a reservation Euro-American read the book, her husband and son read it and so did a neighbor. They apparently all went into culture shock. The woman returned the book, spoke not a word and fled at the first opportunity.
A retired librarian who had worked in both the Macy and Winnebago communities is currently reading it. Her enthusiasm was such that when her computer couldn’t handle the software necessary in order to read it, she had it printed out at her own expense so that she could help with the editing. This is not a small expense: estimated costs of $100 for a black and white copy. She feels that this is an important book to have published since it tells a true history of a people and a region.
A college art teacher from Sioux City started reading it and her first comment was: “you certainly don’t soft petal it, do you?”
A WISR faculty' member responds:
When you talk about the French traders, I got a little lost in all the detail. I think more paragraphs in between sections, explaining how what you are writing relates to the big picture would help. Like why you are talking about French traders or why this trader was significant or “you will recall, this trader was mentioned earlier ...” for the uninitiated, this would be helpful.
This comment shows a struggle within this Euro-American in viewing familiar material from a different point of view. Omaha readily understand the connection: the French names are now tribal ones as well. This becomes clear as one progresses further into the story.
It is exceedingly difficult to get Euro-American’s to lay down their belief system. Most have only experienced history, stories, drama, and art from a Euro-American centric point of view and do not understand that it is not a universal perception. When two cultures are the reverse of each other, this becomes even more difficult. Here’s a comment from another European American:
Early on you mention the Salem Witch trials as going on at or just before the time of the expansion west toward Omaha land. I had heard that not that many people were actually killed at Salem and looked it up and I think the figure was “9.” The big killings of witches happened in Europe before this and the Salem trials were the tail end. You might check into this and incorporate a more accurate reality in your writing.
Again, this is a similar problem. It was not mentioned as to how many “witches” were killed in America in the book, the point was that the mindset that accepted this behavior had been imported along with the individuals who made the trip over not how many were actually killed. Either way, it is not an Omaha concept.
Numbers are a strange phenomenon particularly important to the Euro-American culture. In fact, it does not take many violent public executions to subdue a population. One is usually sufficient. It could be pointed out that it only took four Quakers being hanged in Boston Commons to shut down religious freedom in Massachusetts. For martyrdom to occur is an entirely different matter. For that one needs popular support for a cause within the population which witchcraft did not have nor were the Quakers a big enough faction in the “New World” at that time. In fact, the larger the number of people murdered the greater the acceptance by the population at large. This is what makes war acceptable. Consider this response:
Also, there was a section early on when you talk about how the extended family system was superior in Native American culture than the nuclear family system of whites or something like that. I thought you were a little hard on people in nuclear families and assumed they don’t have extended families as well. I think if you emphasize that the clan system made the extended family stronger, and then you I think proceed to talk about the clan system, which is not in Western society though could probably be compared to family reunions or crests and that sort of thing. I wouldn’t bash people with nuclear families, I would focus on what you are going to tell about and why you think the clan system and extended family structure of Native American/indigenous culture was superior. No need to make the reader more uncomfortable overtly. You want to keep them reading and focus on your story, which you do very well in whatever else I’ve read.
Actually, all European cultures come from tribal societies which had clan structures. It was this series of societies that were first beaten by the Celts who married into them bringing their culture to merge and replace the aboriginal ones and later these societies were pummeled by the Romans only to be finally eradicated by Christianity through their war against women. All of which happened so long ago that culturally Euro-Americans have completely repressed the memories of it happening.
The difficulty in language causes misinterpretations. The extended family of a nuclear family can be made up of both related and unrelated members. However, in today’s world, it is usually more unrelated members since the beginning of the migrating nuclear family following jobs instead of staying within their natal communities. Blood-related family is often a long distance away. In tribal culture, the extended family was completely blood-related to each other with occasional extension reaching out to non-related people who were then adopted into a family.
Traditionally, in modem Euro-American cultures, blood-relatives will take care of an individual who is either incapacitated or down on their luck whereas extended family or friends will share experiences but not money or resources.
The Omaha have a different way of seeing who one’s relatives truly are. It would take a book to explain the Omaha system of kinship to an outsider. There really is no need to explain why one system is better than another. The current chronically rising divorce rate of the dominant culture says it all: something is drastically wrong with the way the status quo is behaving.
Here’s an affirming comment:
Please know that I value your work tremendously. And from past reading I doubt I would have much to add beyond saying I think the work is stunning. When I did look at part of it last month I was impressed by the style and flow—and did appreciate the nice way you handled the issue of the first peoples.
So, not all Euro-Americans have a problem with the script. It makes a difference as to how intertwined one is with one’s inherited culture or whether one can rise easily above their primal indoctrination. Discussing the intricacies of culture both pro and con would take another book as would taking on a debate as to whether culture has played a healthy role in human development.
OTHRP was privileged to meet, at the request of the Omaha Tribal Council, with Dr. R. David Edmunds3 from the University of Texas’ School of Arts and Humanities where he serves as the Anne and Chester Watson History Professor. Dr. Edmunds was hired by the Tribal lawyers to do a background report on one of the land disputes still being fought within the courts over Pender, NE. Since Grandfather Remembers deals with the historic periods that covers both the illegal acquisition of the property and the attitudes stemming from this period as they irrupted over the centuries afterwards, OTHRP had a lot to say.
It was a three-hour interrogation on Omaha history, Pender applicable, by both Dr. Edmunds and the Tribal Council members. Hastings and Coffey were clearly at home with the material and repeatedly pointed to sections of Grandfather Remembers that were germane to the subject raised. Again, and again, they explained what happened and why until ultimately, they presented Dr. Edmunds with his own copy of Grandfather Remembers, which he was delighted to receive.
Later, on February 24, 2016, Dr. R. David Edmunds sent the following letter to OTHRP in reference to the use of Grandfather Remembers as key evidence that resulted in the Supreme Court victory of the Omaha people in the suit brought against them by the town of Pender, Nebraska:
I found your dissertation to very, very useful—particularly in illustrating the Omaha presence in the disputed area and in Pender in the post land sale period. I must say that I have never worked harder on any court case in all my life, and that at first I thought it was an uphill battle, but as I was able to delve into all the materials I realized that we had a very strong case. But what a record of fraud and chicanery perpetrated on the Omaha people. As you probably know, I’ve been working in Native American history for over 40 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much questionable dealing by the government in relation to a single tribe. Hopefully the Pender case will put a stop to some of it. I can imagine that none of us are very popular with the modern “Penderites,” but some of their predecessors in Thurston County (and past politicians from Nebraska) probably should have been jailed. And the Omaha people have continued on. In Oklahoma we have a term that applies to tribal people who have the grit to persist in the face of trouble and hardship. We say they’re ‘red dirt tough,’ and It’s a valued compliment. And in this instance, it certainly applies to the Omahas.
Excitement about the book continues to bubble up from a variety of sources. Professionals in the field have expressed keen interest, veterans and history buffs are eager to read it, a retired librarian and other educated folks have expressed avid interest. Grandfather Remembers may well be unforgettable.
'■ 2 The ten principles of action research were taken from the following two WISR papers:
2002-03 Action Research Seminar Series, “Writing in Your Own Voice,” Dr. Cynthia Rose Lawrence, Jan. 30, 2003, pp. D-l— 2.
Session 1 of WISR Action research Seminar Series, “Overview of Action Research Methods: Introduction to Action Research Seminar Series,” John Bilor-usky and Cynthia Lawrence-Wallace, Nov. 6, 2002, p. A-i.
3 Dr. Edmunds is the recipient of one of the most distinguished awards in the field of history, the Francis Parkman Prize, given for the best non-fiction historical writing as literature. He has written or edited ten books, including The Potawatomis: Keepers of the Fire, which won him the Parkman Prize in 1978, and The Shawnee Prophet, awarded the Ohioana Prize for Biography in 1984; and coauthored The Fox Wars: The Mesquakie Challenge to New France, which received the Heggoy Prize from the French Colonial Historical Society. Edmunds has received prestigious fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Newberry Library, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has won five teaching awards from four separate universities. He has consulted with museums, film makers and tribal governments engaged in land disputes against state and local governments. Edmunds received his PhD from the University of Oklahoma.