Sometimes as I write the name of my home state, I remember its etymology. Nebraska originated from the Oto People, it means “flat water”. The first recorded use of the name was John Fremont’s 1842 reference to “Nebraska” as the name for the broad river that runs through the southern parts of the state currently called the “Platte River”. Nebraska was the name given to the large U.S. Territory created in 1854.
Nebraska is situated in the Great Plains, where European American culture displaced that of several Native American nations in the 19th century. I live where the Ponca, the Pawnee, the Omaha, and the Santee Sioux shared their homeland. In fact, many modern day towns and place names in our state derive from Native American tribal cultures.
My friend Brent’s legal middle name Ohanzee is his Santee Sioux name–it translates to Shadow. He was named in honor of a great-uncle who served in the U.S. Army during World War Two who is remembered as a family hero. The great-uncle had a reputation of being very generous and humble. He did not seek praise or recognition for his acts of mercy and generosity. The elder Ohanzee received his final Sioux name when he returned home from Europe after the war.
Native American peoples are the original citizens of the land that constitutes Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Several native nations already practiced the traditional American values of freedom of speech and separation of powers long before the arrival of European peoples. Pure democracy is an integral part of many native cultures. Some form of representative government was already used by confederations of tribes in eastern North America.
The most noteworthy of those was the Iroquois League of the Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, the Mohawk, the Seneca, and the Tuscarora peoples. The League is believed to be the oldest living democracy on Earth. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson derived a great deal of inspiration from the Iroquois confederacy.
The founding fathers admired the Iroquois values of life, liberty, and happiness that was promoted by their representative union. In fact, Iroquois chiefs were invited to meet with the Continental Congress in June of 1776. There was a diplomatic exchange of pleasantries and a discussion of ideals.
Out of perhaps 700 or more pre-Columbian conquest tribes, there are approximately 560 Federally recognized groupings within the boundaries of the United States. These numbers are still being discussed among Native American historians, so these statistics remain as approximations.
If you live anywhere in North America, you are probably aware of your area’s Native American heritage. Since today is “Native American Day”, this would be a good time to research and salute the rich histories of the original inhabitants of your area.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Houston Cougars’ head basketball coach, Kelvin Sampson. “The one thing about Lumbee people is that there’s so many stereotypes about Native Americans, especially reservation Native Americans, and we all tend to get lumped under that umbrella. But the Lumbee are non-reservation. I grew up no different than anybody would in normal American communities.”