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By Clyde Ellis; Luke Eric Lassiter et al. | Go to book overview

ROBIN RIDINGTON, DENNIS HASTINGS, & TOMMY ATTACHIE


6.
The Songs of our Elders:
Performance and Cultural Survival in
Omaha and Dane-zaa Traditions

The Plains Indian powwow has become central to the identity of many Native people in both the United States and Canada, even in areas where its music and dance are not indigenous, yet other First Nations maintain indigenous traditions unrelated to the Plains powwow. This chapter will compare the music of two peoples whose traditions have deeply indigenous roots but have evolved in very different directions. One, the Omaha tribe of Nebraska, is a source of many elements that became the intertribal powwow. The other, the Dane-zaa of northeastern British Columbia, maintain an indigenous Dreamers’ Dance tradition unrelated to the powwow.

The Omaha tribe is one of the five Degiha Siouan tribes of farmers and hunters, who are thought to have migrated to various locations from the Ohio River valley in protohistoric times (Ridington and Hastings 1997, 45–46). The Dane-zaa are subarctic Athapaskan hunters of Canada’s Peace River area. Geographically and culturally the two peoples have very different histories. One is central to the powwow culture that developed on the Plains; the other is peripheral to that tradition but is the locus of an indigenous form of music and dance. Omaha musical tradition is a source of the contemporary powwow, while Dane-zaa songkeepers known as Dreamers have gathered together influences from other subarctic cultures to create a tradition that is distinctively a marker of Dane-zaa kinship and cultural identity. Omaha musical culture has radiated centrifugally to influence many other tribes. Dane-zaa music has incorporated more widespread subarctic genres centripitally to create a uniquely indigenous form. Omaha songs are known throughout the Plains, while Dane-zaa songs define the experience of a relatively small circle of related people.

The Omahas now live in the middle Missouri River area of northeastern Nebraska. Their tribal name, which means “upstream people,” refers to their migration “against the current” of the Ohio River. Their traditional ceremonies,

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