Posts Tagged ‘University of Nebraska’

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 Omoho language at UNL. Swetland learned the language as a teenager from Omoho elders living in Lincoln and in the fall of 2000 was asked to teach this endangered language. (Lincoln Journal Star file photo)

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.

Gwen Florio

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Chief Standing Bear (Smithsonian Institution)

Chief Standing Bear (Smithsonian Institution)

In 1877, the Ponca tribe was ordered to leave the reservation in Nebraska to which it had been assigned, and go to new territory in Oklahoma, a journey that cost more than a third of its members their lives. It’s an old story, one repeated over and over throughout Indian Country. But this one had a twist.

The tribe’s chief, Standing Bear, fought back – in court.

University of Nebraska journalism professor Joe Starita tells his story in “I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice,” published by St. Martin’s Press.

“Undoubtedly, Standing Bear would have been considered an enemy combatant of his time,” Starita tells Miami Herald reporter Jaweed Kaleem, here. “And yet he successfully used a writ of habeas corpus – the only liberty included in the original text of the Constitution – to gain access to an American courtroom, where he sued the U.S. government on behalf of his weak, starving, homesick people.” A judge ruled in his favor.

Standing Bear’s story is more than a century old, but it resonates today, Starita says.

“… Scores of ‘enemy combatants’ remain locked up in Guantánamo, cut off from the oldest liberty in the Constitution, unable to have a court decide their guilt or innocence,” he tells Kaleem.

“What has often separated this country from others is its adherence to the belief of ‘equality before the law.’ So how could this have been a guiding principle in 1879 but not in 2009?”

That’s a good question. And this sounds like a good book – something to keep in mind as this snuggle-into-a-chair-with-a-blankie-and-a-book season arrives.

You can also read a quick summary of Standing Bear’s story here.

Gwen Florio

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