Before there were youth shelters or child protective service workers, some Native women made the health and safety of orphaned or abandoned children among the Omaha Tribe their personal responsibilities.
For having taken on this role, each of the women would have a circle tattooed on her forehead.
Clyde Tyndall knows this story because his grandmother, a caretaker for her tribe’s parentless children, wore the “mark of honor.”
“Their task throughout life was to take care of orphans,” said Tyndall, director of the Lincoln Indian Center.
In 1992, the Omaha Tribe became one of 33 across the country to receive federal funding to pay for construction and operation of an emergency youth shelter. The tribe named the Macy shelter the Mark of Honor Youth Lodge.
Last year, the tribe evicted the shelter from the building it had used for years, but the Indian Center in Lincoln had an open wing after losing a tenant.
So, the youth shelter will be operated at the Lincoln center, Tyndall said.
Jay Bazemore, director of Mark of Honor Youth Lodge, said he plans to reopen the shelter by early August with 10 beds for girls ages 12 to 18. An expansion is planned later.
In Macy, the shelter provided beds to Native and non-Native children and will do the same in Lincoln, he said.
“We’ll be geared toward Natives, but we’re not limited to Natives,” Bazemore said.
The shelter will be a licensed state child caring agency that will have state placement contracts. That means any Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services worker can place children there, he said. Tribal child welfare workers will be able to place children as well.
The shelter will focus on teaching children independent living and resiliency skills to help them transition back into their homes or into homes of their own, he said. The shelter likely won’t take especially violent children or those who demonstrate sexually inappropriate behavior, he said.
It likely will have 10 full-time equivalent positions to be filled by full- and part-time workers, Bazemore said.
And while it will be based at the Indian Center, it will remain an independent nonprofit, he said.
“We’re looking forward to reopening and are all charged up to do even better than we did before.”