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Omaha Tribe of Nebraska

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Last semester saw the return of the Omaha language program to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Mark Awakuni-Swetland, a lecturer in anthropology and ethnic studies, said the goal is to teach students an elementary-level conversation ability, mastery of the writing system and a basic understanding of the Omaha tribe's culture and history. Students in the four-semester series tackled the course in a hands-on manner. The group stood around an open fire and cooked cowboy bread - pan bread - and then returned to the classroom to write the recipe in the Omaha language. The women in the class made shawls with instruction from one of two Omaha elders who assist Awakuni-Swetland with the class. They also attended traditional Omaha gatherings. "They're learning about the community in a way they could not learn in a classroom." UNL offered a Lakota language program that ended in the mid-1990s. Awakuni-Swetland approached Omaha tribal members in Lincoln and Omaha, the Omaha Tribal Council and tribal elders with the idea of teaching the language. The problem with teaching the oral-based Omaha language, he said, is the lack of pre-existing curriculum materials. "To develop a program means to start from scratch," he said, adding it is very much a cooperative effort.

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