Tag Archives: Charles Amos Walker

Fighting the Colonizer Inside

February 13, 2019 by

My English name is Marisa Cummings. I am Buffalo Tail Clan of the Sky People. I am Omaha. I am the eldest granddaughter of the eldest Buffalo Tail Clan Woman, Eunice Walker Mohn. My great-grandfather, Charles Amos Walker, was the first chairman of the Omaha Tribe and served on tribal council for over 25 years. He was an honorable man and received $7 a week for serving on the council for his people.

This is my heritage, Umoⁿhoⁿ.

Umoⁿhoⁿ is the way indigenous Omaha people call themselves, and my Umoⁿhoⁿ identity is inseparable from my family history. I have been enrolled in the tribe, meet the official criteria for enrollment, and possess the official government documents to prove it.

Even so, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska’s tribal council and enrollment officer have stated that I have been removed as a tribal member (though I have yet to receive official documentation of my expulsion, a removal known as “disenrollment”).  

They claim that the basis for my disenrollment is due to “blood quantum,” a measure of tribal affiliation based on ancestral bloodlines. Blood quantum was an idea introduced to North America by Europeans, and many federally recognized tribes today use some combination of lineal descent and blood quantum to determine membership. 

Marisa Miakonda Cummings with her grandmother and daughter

Marisa Miakonda Cummings with her grandmother and daughter

My great-grandfather Charles Walker, was certified 4/4 (“full-blooded”) Omaha according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1961. At some point in time—according to the tribe’s bookkeeping—someone changed his blood quantum to 31/32. His siblings have the same mother and father, yet they have 4/4 blood quantum. Why the difference? I suspect that the Omaha Tribe is using blood quantum as a weapon of retaliation and exclusion against those who fight against political injustice and advocate for fiscal responsibility within the tribe. It is retribution against me.

The date March 7, 2018, was a pivotal moment for my tribal status and identity. That’s when I requested a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) for my children. Although my children are not enrolled, they would still qualify for a CDIB. That’s when I learned from Laura McCauley, the tribe’s enrollment officer, that she was doing an audit on my family and a few other families.

She also informed me that my great-grandfather, Charles Walker, was missing the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ documentation from 1961 that showed his blood quantum to be 4/4 Omaha. She had him listed as 31/32 Omaha blood. I informed her that I have a copy of the archival document, and I then emailed it to her. Concerned, I then drove from Sioux City to the Enrollment Office in Macy, Nebraska, to meet with her and provide a physical copy of the missing documentation.

I was told that a CDIB and enrollment were the same thing—which is not true—and she could not provide me with a CDIB for my children. She instead wrote me a letter showing their 1/8 blood quantum. A CDIB, however, is a completely separate document from tribal enrollment.

On Sept. 14, 2018, I was informed by tribal employees that the tribal council was meeting to disenroll my family. Since the enrollment officer had previously mentioned “reviewing” my family, I took it seriously. My sister, Andrea Cummings, traveled to the enrollment office and requested more information. She was provided with a copy of Tribal Council Resolution No. 18-91, which declared the rescinding of Resolution No. 15-199. We were not provided the resolution that was rescinded, and the tribal meeting minutes are not public.

The document that we received made no mention of any individual disenrollments. In fact, no names were named in the document. Then, the enrollment officer told my sister we were disenrolled, but she refused to provide any letter or documentation of disenrollment.

Feeling desperate, I posted on Facebook about the vague Resolution No. 18-91 and my unexpected disenrollment. I received an outpouring of support from Omaha people online. I received countless messages and emails from others telling their own stories of incorrect blood quantum and fears of retaliation.

On Sept. 21, 2018, the tribal council issued a statement that they had discarded the 1985 supplemental base roll and are only considering the 1964 base roll, a listing of tribal members characterized to be “true and accurate” by Resolution No. 18-91. While the base roll referenced by the Constitution of the Omaha Tribe (as of Aug. 17, 2015) is the 1961 membership rolls, the omission of the 1985 supplemental roll has serious implications for hundreds of enrolled tribal members; it is mass disenrollment without notification.

On Dec. 4, 2018, my sister again visited the enrollment officer who first told us we were disenrolled. On this occasion, she said we were not disenrolled because the tribe’s constitution has no disenrollment policy. We were, instead, “declined membership.” It remains unclear how one can be declined membership after being enrolled with a tribal identification number. But that is my current status.

I believe that my rejection from the tribe is retaliation for my working with the FBI when I served as Chief Tribal Officer of the Omaha Tribe (I held the position from March 2015 to September 2016). I believe that current council members are angry and retaliating for their family members pleading guilty to embezzlement of Contract Support Cost Funds from Indian Health Service (the division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services responsible for providing medical and health services to members of federally recognized Native American tribes and Alaska Native people). I did present financial documents to the FBI after I received a subpoena. I complied with the federal legal process.

On Sept. 22, 2016, the U.S. Attorney General’s office announced that a federal grand jury had indicted former Omaha Tribal Council Chairman Amen Sheridan, former council members Forrest Aldrich, Tillie Aldrich, Jeff Miller, Doran Morris Jr., Rodney Morris, and Mitchell Parker, along with former Omaha Tribe employees Jessica Webster and Barbara Freemont. The indictment alleged that the defendants “converted and misapplied $388,792.44 by causing the issuance of bonuses or incentives to themselves and several other tribal employees on account of the claim filings.” Over the course of September and October 2018, they were all found guilty.

These crimes do not reflect Omaha values. Likewise, my experience being disenrolled, or “declined membership,” exhibits a twisted value system that is not the traditional way of our people. Omaha traditional ways of being are rooted in family and kinship relationships.

Before we were a people defined by blood quantum, we had a system of clanship. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, treaties, or the reservation system, the Omaha tribe’s pre-colonial society was organized according to  10 clans (five belonging to the Earth and five belonging to the Sky). As stated in my introduction, I belong to the Buffalo Tail Clan of the Sky People. Kinship relations through these clans continue to exist today, providing another extension of family and belonging for Umoⁿhoⁿ people.

The Huthuga of the Omaha Tribe

The Huthuga is the traditional camp circle of the Omaha Tribe. Clans of the Sky People are positioned on the north side, and clans of the Earth People are positioned on the south side. The tribal circle is seen as the embodiment of the Umoⁿhoⁿ people when the clans are united and working together.

Omaha people were traditionally inclusive; large families and extended relatives were intentional and healthy. It was common for the Omaha to intermarry or perform adoption ceremonies to form political alliances and confederacies. Omaha people did not racialize our membership until the idea was forced upon us by the overwhelming colonial-settler society. New laws and policies of the United States were based in race and intended to defraud the original people of this land. The goal was to rid the landscape of the “Indian Problem” and the federal government’s treaty obligations to the original (sovereign) people of this land.

The idea of race and blood quantum was useful to U.S. colonialism because inevitable intermarriage over generations would “breed out” the original people of this land. Blood quantum caused social, political, cultural, biological, and legal implications for all Native people in the U.S. Now, our own people have not only adapted to the settler-colonial mentality, they have used it as a weapon to seek vengeance and hurt our own people. There is no use of blood quantum other than for the destruction of our people.

Sovereignty in relationship to the U.S. federal government allows tribes or nations certain powers, one of them being to determine their own membership. Each tribal nation has the ability to do so with their own cultural way of being. The Omaha Tribe’s enrollment is defined by “membership” in Article II of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. While I meet the criteria for membership according to the constitution, my official documents have been altered, reducing my family’s blood quantum.

There is currently a climate of fear-based leadership among our people. In order to remedy many of the issues the Omaha tribe faces, we must take a good look at who we are and who we want to be. Constitutional reform would give the power to the Omaha people to decide the values and laws of their nation, while holding their governmental body accountable, requiring a strategic plan, and demanding fiscal transparency for a positive future. It is time to start thinking and acting like a nation—and that includes looking at legitimate citizenship versus club membership.

For more information about the sovereignty of Nebraska’s federally recognized tribes, visit the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs (indianaffairs.state.ne.us).

This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Marisa Miakonda Cummings

Marisa Miakonda Cummings

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I would like to begin by introducing myself. My English name is Marisa Cummings. My Omaha or Umoⁿhoⁿ name is Miakonda or Moon Power. I was given my Buffalo Tail Clan name by my great-grandmother, Edith Walker Springer. My father is the late Michael Cummings, or Stampeding Buffalo. My father’s mother is Eunice Walker Mohn, or Buffalo Tail Clan Woman. My grandmother’s parents are the late Charles Amos Walker, or White Chest, and the late Ida Springer Walker, or New Moon. I am an Omaha woman. I am a Buffalo Tail Clan woman of the Sky people. I am the oldest child of eight children. I am the mother of four children.

As I wrote the paragraph to introduce myself, I was mentally translating from Umoⁿhoⁿ to English. The Umoⁿhoⁿ language is a beautiful conduit of culture. Self introductions are very important in our community. One must know who they are to know where they are going in this life. Language allows us to express ourselves to one another as human beings, to talk to the Creator, and express ourselves through song and ceremony. As language is a conduit for expressing thoughts and feelings, and relaying cultural knowledge, it is essential that our Umoⁿhoⁿ language is revered and preserved for our future generations. We must preserve our language to talk to our Creator through our ceremonies as we were instructed to do in our language.

Marisa Miakonda Cummings, with daughter and motherMy grandmother grew up hearing Umoⁿhoⁿ spoken as the primary language at home; it was her first language. She has told me about her parents waking well before sunrise and praying in Umoⁿhoⁿ in the kitchen. Her father, Charles Walker or Mongaska, was taken to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle was a military-style school founded in 1879 by Capt. Richard Pratt under the authority of the U.S. government with the founding principle that Native Americans were a vanishing race and their only hope for survival was assimilation to white mainstream culture. The first thing done was to cut off the children’s sacred hair. The second step was to make them stop speaking their traditional language and converse in English. My great-grandfather came back to the reservation after his stay at Carlisle and remained fluent in both Umoⁿhoⁿ and English. He served on our tribal council for over 25 years. My grandmother’s mother, Ida or Metexi, was sent to Genoa Indian Industrial School in Genoa, Nebraska. She also returned to the reservation and spoke fluent Umoⁿhoⁿ. Both of my great-grandparents survived assimilation and Indian boarding schools and retained their Umoⁿhoⁿ language in daily practice in and outside of their home.

Tragedy struck when my grandmother was 10 years old. Her mother passed away and left eight orphaned children. Her father decided to send her, at age 14, to Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas. There was no more playing in the timber, no more collecting wild plums and gooseberries. She was alone. She said that she often wondered what she did wrong. Was her father angry with her? Why would he send her away? My grandmother graduated from Haskell and moved to Sioux City, Iowa, with the courage to start a life for herself.

My father was born in 1955. He was considered a “half-breed,” as his father was a white man. However, his grandfather, Charlie Walker, took pity on him and gave him the Umoⁿhoⁿ Buffalo Tail Clan name Te-Nuga-Na-Tide. My father was an incredible man. He received his master’s degree from Iowa State University and went to work for the corporate world. He always instilled in me the power of education and the importance of coming back to help the people with the education I received. I was raised to be of service and make a difference. My father also raised me like a first-born son. He made me tough, taught me to always speak up and use my voice, to be courageous and strategic. He told me that women have a strong place in leadership and that Native women will be at the front of the movement to bring back language and culture. He was very proud when I graduated with a degree from the University of Iowa.

Marisa Miakonda Cummings As a young woman, I was always interested in our language. I would ask my grandma and great-grandma to tell me stories. I would sit at their feet or at the kitchen table in my grandma’s trailer while I asked one question after another. I think she got tired of me at times. I still am always asking questions of my grandmother. How do I say this? Do you remember this? She is the matriarch of our family. I am blessed that my children can be close to her and experience her unconditional love and knowledge.

In 1978, the Indian Religious Freedoms Act was passed. Our ceremonies, songs, and dances were no longer illegal. We could legally pray in the manner the Creator intended for us to pray. Yet, so many of the songs, ceremonies, and teachings were no longer practiced. In my life journey, I have rediscovered my love of ceremony. I enjoy collecting and preparing medicine. I love that I have the ability to be a lifelong learner of culture and ceremony, but in order to make that true connection, I must relearn a language that is rooted in my DNA. I believe that we can relearn our sense of true self and heal both individually and collectively.

My children have been born in a generation where our ceremonies are being revived and practiced. My children have been exposed to ceremonies, songs, dance, and love of our way of life. As I embrace our ceremonies and language, I know that I am also healing those who went before me. As I heal, I give reverence to ancestors whose hearts broke when they saw English replace Umoⁿhoⁿ in their homes, those who watched alcohol replace ceremony, and those who witnessed government commodities replace our sacred foods. As we revive our sacred way of life, we renew and honor all of those who went before us.

Read also from the September/October 2016 edition of Omaha Magazine:

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