The Omaha Indian Reservation is located in the northeast corner of Nebraska, along the Missouri River. There is a 70% unemployment rate among the Omaha people. This reservation is challenged with alcoholism and poverty in its struggle to improve the conditions of its people. Years of oppression and substandard living conditions have created a culture of low self-esteem and a tolerance for an environment that is unhealthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. There is also perceived dependency on outside resources to provide people with what they want and need.
Through a collaborative effort between University of Nebraska-Lincoln Thurston County Cooperative Extension office and a group of community members from the town of Macy, the Umo “ho” Care About Reservation Environment (U-CARE) grew out of a process that examined the local resources of people, history and space to create a community vision and action plans. Beginning in August of 1999, youth and adult community volunteers decided that after looking at their community, the best way to begin their group was to work on a project that would be highly visible and could draw the wider community in the activity. Through the community visioning process, the concern of the health hazard of trash and litter in the community came up as a priority area for action in the community. Through brainstorming and idea sharing, U-CARE decided to take a simple first step and paint trash barrels and place them throughout Macy.
U-CARE’s idea of creating a place for people to put their trash became one strategy for a larger effort to beautify their community – to show that the community’s space was something that was a source of pride. As team membership grew, U-CARE’s activities became increased in number and in scope. U-CARE planted trees and shrubs at the Tribal Cemetery, the Senior Citizen Housing circle, the Pow Wow grounds and in front of the Tribal Council Building. A large “M” was placed on a hillside so people could see it as they drive into town. In each of these cases, people began to become more involved and take on the responsibility of caring for the new plants. The group has been pleasantly surprised by the contagious excitement of U-CARE’s projects.
The U-CARE team is ready to move the next level of community building and involvement. U-CARE is currently looking to build out the leadership base and create more complex strategic plans that lead the community toward its vision. Macy is a struggling community. By serving their community, the volunteers of U-CARE and Macy are taking actions that actualize and foster the pride that people have in themselves and their homes. And, in this community, young people and adults are working together to make that happen.