Rokeby Elementary School, 2001

Native American Studies
Rokeby Elementary School, 2001

UNL Office of Research, 2008

Omaha and Ponca Digital Dictionary
UNL Office of Research, 2008

Rokeby Elementary School, 2001

Native American Studies
Rokeby Elementary School, 2001

Dr. Mark Awakuni-Swetland

Ph.D. (Anthropology) University of Oklahoma, 2003

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies
Native American Studies Program Liaison

Office: 841 Oldfather Hall
Phone: (402) 472-3455
Fax: (402) 472-9642


Cultural Anthropology
Anthropological Linguistics

Primary Research Interests:

Indigenous Peoples of the Prairie/Plains, California, & Hawaii
Ethnohistory & material culture, oral histories, sociolinguistics, Native language ideology, and Dhegiha languages with a focus on the Omaha language

Educational Background:

Ph.D. (Anthropology) University of Oklahoma, 2003
M.A. (Anthropology) University of Nebraska, 1996
B.A. (Anthropology, History, Great Plains Studies) University of Nebraska, 1994

Recent and Representative Research Activities:

The Omaha and Ponca Digital Dictionary Project
We are creating a comprehensive Omaha and Ponca digital dictionary, which is now available online for native communities, students, researchers and the public at

A three year (2008-2011) $348,800 NEH grant (#PD50007-08) funds this work through a joint NSF/NEH/SI "Documenting Endangered Languages" initiative. The project has been selected as a "We the People" project, a special NEH recognition for model projects advancing the study, teaching and understanding of American history and culture. Mark Awakuni-Swetland is the Principal Investigator. Catherine Rudin, Wayne State College Professor of Linguistics, is the Co-Principal Investigator. Katherine Walter, Co-Director of the UNL Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, is the Project Team Leader.

This project will enhance efforts to teach, preserve, and revive the language. Originally a united group, the Omaha and the Ponca became distinct political and historic entities long ago. Today, only a few dozen elders in Nebraska and Oklahoma speak Omaha and Ponca as their first language. This project provides a growing linguistic database for research and teaching.

This project has dusted off a historically and linguistically important collection of Omaha and Ponca language. Twenty years ago at the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives, I microfilmed the field notes and unpublished lexicon of James Owen Dorsey, a 19th century ethnographer and linguist. The dictionary will grow to include Dorsey's 16,000 handwritten slips. All scanned microfilm images are available for viewing on the UNL Omaha language class website at

Each slip contains an Omaha word, most with an English translation. A 19th century part of speech, inflected verb forms, synonyms, cognate roots, and comments from Dorsey’s Omaha and Ponca speakers. Because many of Dorsey's slips include sample sentences in Omaha that describe how the Omaha were living in the 1870s-1890s, it is a treasure of both Omaha language and Omaha history.

Words are entered into the database using Dorsey’s original writing system. They undergo reorganization by receiving a modern part of speech designation, and a more efficient definition. Linguistic analysis will continue as we add a description of internal construction and identify verb patterns. As entries are approved, they are automatically re-transcribed into the modern spelling system used on the Omaha Reservation for the online dictionary.

We plan to work with Native speakers and linguists to add grammatical information and cultural notes. Other future plans include adding sound files, graphics, and links to documents referenced on Dorsey’s slips that have the word of phrase in context.

The Omaha Language Text Book Project
The Omaha Language and Culture Textbook is a collaborative first year Omaha language textbook being developed in partnership with the Umonhon Nation Public School’s Umonhon Language and Culture Center. The textbook is under contract with University of Nebraska Press.

NOTE: As of 2/2011, the completed 600+ page manuscript has returned to UNL after a rigorous final review for Omaha language content by elder native speakers of the Umonhon Language and Culture Center at Umonhon Nation Public School, Macy, Nebraska. Corrections for the ULCC and from the UNL Omaha language students are being entered into the final manuscript prior to delivery to the University of Nebraska Press.

A Quick Reference Omaha Dictionary
In late 2010 the Umonhon Language and Culture Center requested that the out of print Stabler dictionary, Umónhon Iye of Elizabeth Stabler, be republished immediately. They cited it as the most common item requested by Omaha community members. It is widely described as the best language reference available. The supply of the 1977 edition (488 copies) was quickly exhausted. Reprinted in 1991 as Umónhon Iye of Elizabeth Stabler with and Omaha to English Lexicon, its 600 copies were also quickly distributed.

The UNL Omaha language teaching team has undertaken to revise, expand, and re-organize the Stabler dictionary. Language materials from the Omaha language textbook are being incorporated into the new edition. Thus, this quick reference dictionary of the most common Omaha words will become a companion volume for the textbook.

An On-Line Omaha Language Resource
The Omaha language class has an online resource at

This site is an Omaha language resource with bilingual materials (audio and text) created by UNL Omaha language students. Other materials on the site include a list of Omaha personal clan names published in the late 19th century by James Owen Dorsey, and early 20th century by Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche. Melvin Gilmore’s early 20th century Omaha ethno-botanical list, Dorsey’s collection of 19th century Omaha and Ponca stories, and a gallery of material culture images rounds out the site.

Creation of the site was initially funded in part by a UNL Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence grant. It is supported by the UNL Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

The site is used regularly by the UNL Omaha language students, the Omaha tribal community, tribal language programs and members from linguistically related languages (Kaw, Osage, Ponca, and Osage), and linguists/scholars of the Siouan languages. Site content continues to be modified and expanded.

Recent Book

Dance Lodges of the Omaha People

Dance Lodges of the Omaha People
Building from Memory
With an introduction by Roger Welsch

Recent Articles
2008 Awakuni-Swetland, Mark, and Rory M. Larson. Umónhon Ié the - Umónhon Úshkon the, the Omaha Language - the Omaha Way: Omaha Language and Culture Textbook Progress Report. The Proceedings of the 2007 Mid-America Linguistics Conference, online volume of the Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 30.

2008 Awakuni-Swetland, Mark J. "Make-Believe White-Men" and the Omaha Land Allotments of 1871-1900. Great Plains Research 1994, Vol. 4, number 2, mounted to the UNL Digital Commons.

Recent Bilingual Materials Created by the Omaha Language Class

The Zombie Blue Rabbit

Monshtínge Tú T’émonthin the
The Zombie Blue Rabbit
With English Subtitles

Omaha Corn Pancakes

Wabásnide, Omaha Corn Pancakes
An illustrated bilingual instructions for cooking a traditional corn dish

The Common Omaha House. Illustrated bilingual instructions for assembling a tipi

Umónhon Tí Ukéthin, The Common Omaha House. Illustrated bilingual instructions for assembling a tipi

Common Omaha Cooking

Umónhon Níkashinga UkéthinUhón, Common Omaha Cooking
An illustrated bilingual Omaha cook book

Foundational Research

A 4,500 entry dictionary of the Omaha language

Umónhon Iye of Elizabeth Stabler
A 4,500 entry dictionary of the Omaha language


Recent Courses Taught at UNL:


Traveling Ethnographic Field School (ANTH454/854) is being proposed for the summer of 2011
For further information about this cross-discipline, hands-on experiential learning opportunity click here


Omaha I (ANTH/ETHN 104A)
Omaha II (ANTH/ETHN 105A)
Omaha Accelerated 2nd Year (ANTH/ETHN 210A
Introduction to Anthropology (ANTH 110)
Anthropology of the Great Plains (ANTH 130)
Indigenous Peoples of North America (ANTH/ETHN 351)

The Indigenous Garden, 2005 and 2008. A summer-long hands-on exploration of gardening practices of indigenous peoples of the Great Plains by planting, maintaining, and processing heritage varieties of corn, beans, squashes, and other cultigens.

I routinely collaborate with undergraduate and graduate students wishing to pursue upper level independent directed reading and research projects.