Just catching up with this extremely interesting story by Kevin Abourezk of the Lincoln Journal-Star.
It’s about Mark Awakuni-Swetland, who teaches the Omaha language in Nebraska. Abourezk lays out the dilemma thusly:
Mark Swetland, instructor of the Omaha language at UNL. Swetland learned the language as a teenager from Omaha elders living in Lincoln and in the fall of 2000 was asked to teach this endangered language. (Lincoln Journal Star file photo)
Those who oppose his efforts to preserve the Omaha language say he has falsely claimed to be an Omaha tribal member to win lucrative federal grants and gain tenure as a University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor of anthropology and ethnic studies.
“He’s not an Omaha,” said Jeff Gilpin, an Omaha tribal council member. “We proved that. He doesn’t belong to any clans of the Omaha people there.”
But those who know Awakuni-Swetland say he has never claimed to be anything more than who he is – a non-Native teacher trying to help the Omaha people.
“He’s never said that he was a member of the Omaha Tribe,” said Emmaline Walker Sanchez, an Omaha tribal member who has worked with Awakuni-Swetland to preserve the Omaha language for 10 years. “But he was adopted by some enrolled tribal members.”
Barb Stabler-Smith said her parents, now deceased adopted him and also inducted him into the Black Shoulder Buffalo Clan.
But other tribal member have gone before the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, seeking his removal as a professor.
Abourezk says each side claims the tribe’s support.
Awakuni-Swetland says he obtained tribal permission to teach the Omaha language more than a decade ago.
Only about 25 elders, out of 6,000 tribal members, speak the language fluently, and some tribal members say those are the peole who should be teaching the language.
It’s a tough issue, one that brings to mind a recent story (see previous post, here) about a young non-Native man teaching Lakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, seemingly with no controversy.
We’ll be following Abourezk’s covering of this case and will keep you posted.
Tags: buffalo post, Cultural insensitivity, Cultural Survival, Gwen Florio, Native American languages, Native American news, Omaha language, Omaha Tribe, University of Nebraska, University of Nebraska Board of Regents