OMAHA, NEBRASKA — Rufus White, a tribal citizen of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, has been named a 2014 National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.
White will be honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on September 17.
Born in 1938 on the Omaha Reservation in Macy, Nebraska, Rufus White is a tradition keeper and featured performer of traditional songs of the Umonhon (Omaha Tribe of Nebraska). White, known as Shuda Gina(Calls for Smoke) in Umonhon, was raised to follow traditional ways by his grandparents and father after the death of his mother in his infancy. At the age of ten, White began learning to sing from his father and grandfather who were both spiritual leaders and taught him both the songs and the history behind them. He is a resource for not only Omaha songs but also their related customs and stories.
As a tradition bearer in his tribe, White has played a major role in passing on the songs of his tribe by performing them at powwows and intertribal gatherings both at home, across the country, and internationally as part of cultural exchange. He is also sought after for many other social and ceremonial occasions because his repertory includes a large number of family songs, Hethushka (War Dance) songs, specific Handgame songs, Gourd Dance songs, War Mother songs, and sacred songs from several Omaha tribal societies. White’s knowledge extends to knowing which songs are appropriate for which occasions and when during an event they should be sung.
White’s singing has been recorded for local schools to use as well as by the Library of Congress, adding his knowledge of Omaha tribal songs to a collection which features Omaha songs on wax cylinders going back to 1893. He has taught songs to young singers through a Nebraska Arts Council’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant in addition to teaching in the schools on the reservation. At the Umonhon Nation Public School he has also been instrumental in teaching the Umonhon language, as well as sharing traditional and family stories, songs, and cultural traditions.
White lives in Walthill, Nebraska.