Letter to the Editor

Celebrating Nebraska's Native American past, present and future

Friday, November 24, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. – Friday is Native American Heritage Day, and November is Native American Heritage Month.

The executive director of Humanities Nebraska, Chris Sommerich, hopes the observances help folks to realize there are people who have been living on the Plains for thousands of years, much longer than those who emigrated here from other countries.

He adds that Native Americans are not just an element of our history, but part of who we are today.

“There’s still vibrant culture and groups of Native Americans in Nebraska that are thriving and that are there among everyone else,” he stresses. “It’s not just some element of our history. This is part of who were are today and part of our shared identity as Nebraskans. “

There are four federally recognized tribes in Nebraska: the Omaha Tribe, Santee Sioux Nation, the Ponca Tribe and the Winnebago Tribe.

More than 10,000 Native Americans are estimated to live on Nebraska’s reservations.

Throughout the month of November, Sommerich says, schools, libraries, community groups and other organizations have held events highlighting the culture and lives of Nebraska’s Native American tribes.

“An Arapaho speaker did a program on telling children’s stories, animal stories and traditional Lakota stories,” he relates. “Homestead National Monument did a program on Plains Indians heritage, Hastings did a program on lifestyles of the Lakota. And David City had another program on storytelling.”

But, Sommerich notes, Native American issues should be supported year-round.

One particular challenge Humanities Nebraska is working on is the preservation of native languages.

“For example, the Omaha tribe in Nebraska has at least a couple thousand members, but the number of fluent speakers you can count almost on two hands, now,” Sommerich states. “That said, it’s up to the Omaha Tribe to decide what’s important to preserve and our challenge is to be helpful in any way we possibly can. “

There has been some criticism that the Native American Heritage Day observance is held on the same day as Black Friday, noting that is a day of consumerism and materialism that runs contrary to the values of indigenous people.

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