Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Michael L. Tate

Second Advisor

Dr. Jerold Simmons

Third Advisor

Dr. Charles Gildersleeve


The ebb and flow of federal Indian policy over the last two centuries is a well-studied phenomenon. Less prevalent, however, arc examinations of the localized impact of changing policies on specific tribes and reservations. The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska offers a particularly useful model for this type of "grass roots" analysis. Virtually all of the federal programs tested on the Omahas in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were dismal failures, leaving the tribe impoverished and virtually landless as it entered the post-World War II era. Over the last fifty years, the Omaha Reservation has continued to serve as an involuntary proving ground for new directions in Indian policy. During this period, however, tribal members have begun to flex a new-found prowess as "legal warriors." By using the federal courts and other available forums, the Omahas have shed their historic roles as helpless victims of misguided "reformers" and rapacious "land sharks." In the 1950s, the Omaha Reservation became a prominent example of the bureaucratic folly inherent in the passage of Public Law 280. This termination-era statute transferred reservation criminal jurisdiction from the federal government to state and local authorities. When inadequate state service led to lawless chaos on the reservation, the Omahas became the first tribe in the PL 2 80 states to seek and obtain "retrocession" of federal jurisdiction. Likewise, the Omahas played a leading role in the annals of the controversial Indian Claims Commission (ICC) during the 1950s and 60s. An analysis of the two claims they prosecuted before the Commission illustrates the intricacies of the ICC process, and the impact of its operations on a specific tribe. Their landmark compromise with the government after years of complex litigation laid the procedural foundation for many other ICC settlements. In the 1970s and 80s, the Omahas continued their quest for self-preservation on the judicial battlefield. Their partially-successful struggle for the return of the Blackbird Bend lands in Iowa is one of the more important Indian land claims of the modern era. The story of that litigation exposes a number of important issues in current Indian relations, including the dubious role of the federal government as the continuing "trustee" of Indian lands. This thesis traces these episodes in the modern "legal history" of the Omaha Tribe. It suggests the manner in which the Omahas' experiences reflect the impact of broader trends in federal Indian policy. Just as importantly, it seeks to demonstrate the remarkable cultural resiliency of the Omaha Tribe as its moves forward to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of History and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1995, Mark R. Scherer

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