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Descendents of Omaha Tribe Chief Big Elk celebrate opening of new recreation area

Site to offer kayaking, trails, picnic areas and more
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Posted at 12:17 PM, Sep 21, 2021

PAPILLION, Neb. (KMTV) — In an effort to prevent flooding and enrich the area, the Big Elk Lake and Portal Recreation Area opened in Papillion on Tuesday. Descendents of the site’s namesake were on hand to help celebrate with officials.

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Dr. Rudi Mitchell, Chief Big Elk Ancestor, performing a cedar ceremony to bless Big Elk Lake.

“Until today, there was no tribute to Chief Big Elk in Omaha, said Dr. Rudi Mitchell, the great-great-great-grandson of Chief Big Elk of the Omaha Tribe.

“Big Elk was admired for leading one of the most peaceful tribes through many challenges. Through his speeches, trading, and peace treaties, Big Elk had a gift for peacefully bringing settlers and the Omaha tribe together,” said Mitchell. “This says a lot about the kind of leader he was and I’m grateful he will be remembered in an area of beauty and nature.”

Mitchell said he’s pleased with the tribute to Big Elk considering what he did for his people and incoming settlers.

As you enter the park, you may notice a monument with “Chief Big Elk’s name interpreted in the Omaha language: Oⁿpoⁿ Toⁿga,” said the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District.

“I want to thank the Papio NRD board for accepting my request to place our Chief Big Elk’s Omaha Tribal Indian name to be translated under his name on the entrance sign,” said Mitchell Slater.

Slater is another descendent of Big Elk who is a fluent Omaha language speaker.

Papillon Mayor David Black said the city is excited about the project’s completion and what it will mean for the area.

“In addition to the flood protection, the recreational opportunities these areas will provide are invaluable to our community,” said Black. “The City of Papillion values our long-term partnership with the NRD, and we are proud to bring these new areas into our park system,” said Black.

The Big Elk Lake and Portal Recreation Area is now open to the public at 114th and Cornhusker Road and will offer recreation opportunities such as:

  • Walking/cycling trails
  • Kayak/canoe launches
  • Picnic shelters
  • Parkland
  • Fishery enhancements

Officials from the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, the City of Papillion, Sarpy County, and many community partners took part in today's event.

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