MEANINGFUL MURAL: Young Members of the Omaha Tribe Connect With Culture
This summer, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska held an outreach event for young people on the reservation. Part of this exploration included art.
Siouxland Public Media’s Sheila Brummer paints the picture of this creative cultural history lesson.
“Can I start?”
More than a dozen youngsters with brushes in hand help bring a mural to life, including 15-year-old Traylin Sheridan of Rosalie, Nebraska. She and others work to cover a wall once gilded with graffiti.
“Looks like we are painting a mural with 6,7,8 buffalos?”
Traylin and the enthusiastic group rely on guidance from Paul Chelstad, an artist from Sioux City,
Chelstad crafted the outline of the powerful animals and other elements of the design.
“It is buffalo going into a rainstorm. They are one of the few animals to go into storms. I never knew that about buffalo, and that’s interesting.”
“Some of them are just buffalo colored; they are the colors of the four directions of the earth; red, yellow, blue, and green.”
“The buffalo is our spiritual animal that connects our tribe, basically.”
Traylin Sheridan, who is a member of the Omaha tribe, spent three days attending the cultural camp at the Powwow Grounds in Macy, Nebraska.
The event mixes the mural with motivational lessons on history, language; including traditional songs from tribal elders.
“I think that it is really impressive that they try to teach young kids about our culture.”
Reporter: “Do you think your culture has been lost?”
“I think it has because our schools don’t teach any classes on it.”
Young tribal members immerse themselves not only in paint but hands-on learning, led by a core group of local leaders, who organized the event and share their knowledge with a new generation.
“My name is Dwight Howe; I’m a cultural guidance counselor for suicide and substance abuse prevention for the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska.
Reporter: “Tell me the significance of this mural.”
“The concept is the four hills of life. There is the infant, the child, the adult, and the elder. I would consider you on the third hill of life. Paul and I are on the fourth hill. We take a look back, and people are gone, our mothers and fathers. Some of us can’t say grandpa or grandma, or even son. That fourth hill is sacred. Child, infant, child, adult, elder, the four hills of life, and we talk about that in our songs.”
“We also talk about the Nishude’, the river. Omahas were here 500 years ago. They came here and saw the river, and they saw all that fog, sometimes it’s like that even today.”
“They said it was smokey. Our language is descriptive, so they called it Nishude’."
“For 500 years, we have had a relationship with that water. Lewis and Clark came up and met us. The French, the Spanish before them.”
"We met all kinds of people through that river; sometimes it has been good, sometimes it has been bad. We survived. We are still here, and we are still here."
"The Buffalo they use to be sacred to us, they still are.” God gave us the buffalo; Te nuge’.”
“That lead one is going to lead them right through it a storm.”
Dwight Howe’s philosophy is colored with rich historical perspective as he tries to address one of the issues facing the Macy community.
“We have had a problem with graffiti, people spraying graffiti. So, our hope is the children take ownership of this and don’t mess it up. So, hopefully, that graffiti goes somewhere else because we don’t want it here in our community.”
“We are just like every other community. We want to keep our environment clean we want to keep the community clean. We want good things just like everyone else.”
“I would like to focus on the positive instead of accentuating the negative. We are just like every other community. You could apply the same variables to Denver, take them to San Francisco, take them to Boston, you’ll have the same problems; it’s not just inherent for the Omahas to have social problems. But, there are alcohol and drugs, and we stand firmly.
“We want to work with the community, people like Paul, a 73-year-old elder who lived his whole life in Sioux City, has never been to Macy, and it’s only 40 minutes away.”
“Earlier, the younger kids did the river, and it was like 30 kids, it was a riot, laugh. They did a good job,” said Artist Paul Chelstad.
Paul Chelstad helps the artists complete a scene of water, multi-colored buffalo, a traditional Omaha medicine wheel, and the four rolling hills of life.
Traylin Sheridan and her friends use this art activity as a way to draw on history with pride for the future.
“I have a grandpa who knows about our culture and tells us more things. I feel like today people forget what our tribe means.
REPORTER: “What does your tribe mean to you?”
“It brings peace that people are trying to learn it. It makes me happy.”
Dwight Howe wants the children of the tribe to know they matter, as he strives to promote the Omaha Tribe’s culture, their ways, their community.
“We are extended family, won gi the’, we put them in different clans to see where they physically come from, but they are the bigger one the tribe won gi the’. They are all interwound.“
A tribe of tradition, working together to improve the future, one brushstroke at a time.
This was the first year for the cultural camp. Dwight Howe plans to do it again. The mural is still untouched from graffiti one month later after it was painted in early August.