Obituary | Mark Awakuni-Swetland

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Obituary | Mark Awakuni-Swetland

UNL's Mark Awakuni-Swetland gestures as he talks to students during a tipi set-up day outside of Oldfather Hall.
Troy Fedderson | University Communications
UNL's Mark Awakuni-Swetland gestures as he talks to students during a tipi set-up day outside of Oldfather Hall. Awakuni-Swetland, an associate professor of anthropology and ethnic studies, died Feb. 23.

Mark Joseph U'thixide Awakuni-Swetland, 58, of Lincoln, died Feb. 23 after a nearly 15-year fight with leukemia. He was an associate professor of anthropology and ethnic studies.

Awakuni-Swetland graduated from Pius X High School in Lincoln in 1974. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees at UNL, and a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma.

In 2000, Awakuni-Swetland was hired as a lecturer at UNL. His primary research areas included indigenous peoples, with a focus on the Omaha language. He created UNL's program in native languages, assembling a team of students and others to design instructional materials for the Omaha language.

"Mark was expressly recruited (by UNL) because of his expertise in indigenous peoples of the prairie, Native language ideology and Dhegiha languages," said LuAnn Wandsnider, chair and professor of anthropology. "We, his colleagues, remember him as a tireless worker, a generous and gentle scholar, and a fierce champion for indigenous cultures and languages."

As an undergraduate, Awakuni-Swetland worked with his adoptive aunt Elizabeth Stabler, a member of the Omaha Tribe, to compile the unpublished manuscript “Umonhon iye of Elizabeth Stabler: A Vocabulary of the Omaha Language with an Omaha to English Lexicon.” The project later led to the creation of the Omaha-Ponca Digital Dictionary.

Awakuni-Swetland partnered with the Omaha Nation Public School and the Omaha Language and Culture Center at Macy, Wayne State College researchers, and UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities to establish an Omaha-Ponca Digital Dictionary and other online reference materials for the Omaha language. At the time of his death, Awakuni-Swetland and his former students were completing an innovative Omaha language textbook to be published by the University of Nebraska Press.

He is survived by his wife Donna K. Awakuni-Swetland and sons Micah and Keali’i Swetland. Siblings: Trudy Martin of Hobbs, New Mexico; Michele (Kevin) Cullen of Shelby; Matthew (Patricia) Swetland of Lincoln; Nancy Swetland of Lincoln; Luke (Stacey Byers) Swetland of Santa Barbara, California; Rachel (Eric) Garten of Lincoln; and many nieces and nephews.

Preceded in death by his parents Lee I. and Margaret A. Swetland; older brother Gary Swetland; grandparents Charles and Elizabeth Stabler; and dad Lorenzo Stabler.

A memorial celebration was held Feb. 26. The family has requested memorial donations in-lieu of flowers.

Students led by UNL's Mark Awakuni-Swetland set up a tipi outside of Oldfather Hall in April 2012.
Mark Awakuni-Swetland (left) talks with students after the completion of a tipi set up outside of UNL's Oldfather Hall in April 2012.