by Angela Washburn Heisey and Richard C. Hanes


The name Oneida (oh-NI-duh), or Onyotaa:ka, as they call themselves, means "people of the stone set up." The Oneida language belongs to the Iroquoian language family, which also includes the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca tongues. The tribes formed a confederacy centuries ago known as the Five Nations, or Ho'da'sho'ne, "People of the Long House." Each group lived in a distinct territory, with the Mohawk residing east of the Oneidas and the other three residing to the west. The confederacy became The Six Nations when the Oneidas granted shelter and later admission into the League of the linguistically and culturally related Tuscaroras. The Tuscaroras were fleeing north from war in the Carolinas in 1722. The Oneidas were once a strong and flourishing traditional native society living in what is now in modern-day central New York State, and their territory stretched from the St. Lawrence River in the north southward to the border of what is now Pennsylvania. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Oneidas suffered significant population losses from smallpox epidemics and warfare over fur trade territories. In 1677, the Oneida population was estimated at only about 1,000. The population has rebounded to more than 11,300 Oneidas in the 1990s. Many reside in the United States, living on Oneida reservations in Wisconsin and New York, and while another 600 live in Ontario, Canada.


European contact with the Oneida people, who traditionally lived in a single principal village, occurred early in the seventeenth century, possibly as early as 1616. The Oneidas became fur traders to obtain European goods, which led to the abandonment and loss of many of their old skills. Jack Campisi in the Handbook of North American Indians reported that by 1640 two trade networks competed, one made up of the Algonquin, Huron, and French, and the other consisting of the Oneidas, Dutch, and English. These two trade networks warred up until the beginning of the eighteenth century.

During the American Revolutionary War, the Oneidas fought with the Continental army against the British and supplied George Washington's starving army with hundreds of bushels of corn during the winter of 1777–1778 at Valley Forge. Their alliance with the Americans did not bode well for their relationships with other Iroquois tribes who were sympathetic to the British. For that reason, many Iroquois moved to Canada following the war. However, in payment for their assistance, the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 offered the Oneidas a guarantee of their claim to their traditional lands. The treaty between the U.S. Continental Congress and the Oneida Nation provided that the Oneidas "shall be secure in the possession of the lands on which they are settled." This guarantee was again stated in the 1789 Treaty of Fort Harmar. However, between these two treaties, the state of New York forced tribal land cessions via the 1785 Treaty at Fort Herkimer and 1788 Treaty of Fort Schuyler. Through these two treaties, the Oneidas lost most of their ancestral lands, reducing the Oneida territory from the more than six million original acres to about 300,000 acres. In 1790, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Trade and Non-Intercourse Act, forbidding purchases of Indian land without prior federal consent. In 1794, the Treaty of Canandaigua and the Veterans' Treaty were signed to protect the then-present boundaries of the occupied Oneida lands. Nevertheless, the state of New York continued to ignore federal efforts to protect the Indian lands. State and local governments imposed a total of 26 treaties (all later ruled illegal) and the Oneida territory was further reduced to only a few hundred acres.

In 1822, Chief Shenandoah of the Oneidas purchased rights from the Menominee in the Wisconsin Territory to settle on their lands. Between 1823 and 1838, close to 700 Oneidas relocated to a four-million-acre tract in Wisconsin, which President James Monroe soon reduced to half a million acres. Then, in 1838, according to Jack Campisi, the Treaty of Buffalo Creek directed the removal of all Iroquois from New York State while the Wisconsin land base was further decreasing to only 65,000 acres near Green Bay. In reaction, more than two hundred Oneidas sold their New York land in 1839 and jointly purchased 5,200 acres near London, Ontario. During the early 1840s, more than 400 Oneidas moved north into Ontario, reuniting with members of the Iroquois League who earlier had fled their traditional New York lands. Only about 200 Oneidas were left in New York. Some settled around the town of Oneida, while many moved onto the Onondaga reservation near Syracuse.


Throughout much of the twentieth century, the Oneidas of New York and Wisconsin lobbied the federal government and fought legal battles to regain land lost in previous centuries and to prevent further loss of land through land allotment and assimilationist policies. A significant blow to long-term tribal prosperity in Wisconsin was the allotment of reservation lands under authority of the General Allotment Act of 1887. By 1908, the entire reservation had been divided up among individual tribal members. Those over 18 years of age received 40 acres of land each; those under 18, 26 acres. Often the parcels of individual tribal families were not adjoining, further hampering farming efforts. Because the new tax burdens were too heavy, by the mid-1920s, most lands had passed out of tribal ownership through foreclosures, and only a few hundred acres remained. The tribal government ceased operation, and many Oneidas moved to urban areas for wage employment in factories. The federal government repurchased some of the lost lands after the tribe formed a new government in the 1930s. By the 1970s, the Wisconsin Oneidas owned 2,200 acres in scattered panels, interspersed with non-Indian ownership.

Following World War II, the United States adopted an Indian "termination," or assimilationist, policy. Proponents of the policy rationalized this scheme of taking tribal lands and eliminating government services as a way to forcibly assimilate Oneidas into mainstream American society. Despite prior internal political divisions, the Oneidas of Wisconsin united in the effort to resist the federal government's attempts to sell off what tribal lands they still held. Wisconsin Oneida leaders such as Dennison Hill, Irene Moore, Charles A. Hill, Mamie Smith, Oscar Archiquette, and Morris Wheelock united to battle against termination legislation of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Oneidas also struggled to preserve the terms of the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty, which called for a government annuity to the Oneidas. The U.S. government attempted to pay it off in a lump sum. By 1956, government pressures began to lessen, and the threat passed. Two buildings in Oneida, Wisconsin, are named for two of the key figures of this period in Oneida land claims history: Irene Moore and Oscar Archiquette.

In 1974, and again in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1790 Non-Intercourse Act negated the earlier treaties between the Oneidas and New York state. The 1985 decision known as County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation ruled that the 270,000 acres of Oneida lands that were transferred more than 175 years earlier had violated the Indian Non-Intercourse Act. In a landmark decision in American Indian law, the court's opinion found no applicable statute of limitations and no legal basis to deny the Oneidas' land claim. The Court had found that the Oneidas held a right to a large amount of land in central New York State in Oneida and Madison Counties. The case established an important legal precedent that potentially applies to all pending and future eastern Indian land claims.

Taking their case before the federal courts brought together the three separate groups of Oneidas. Beginning in 1987, the Oneidas and the state of New York attempted to negotiate a settlement following the Court decision, but with no success. Finally, in 1998, the Oneida Indian Nation, the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin, and the Oneida band of the Thames of Ontario filed a lawsuit against the state in an effort to end the case. To assert their right to repossess the lands illegally taken two centuries before, the suit named the thousands of landowners in the contested region as defendants. The U.S. government joined the suit on behalf of the tribes in late 1998. With the case still pending at the end of the twentieth century, the Oneidas in New York continued a policy of reacquiring lands as they became available on the open market. Their initial purchase was 42 acres of land near the city of Oneida.


The Oneidas today comprise three separately recognized groups, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin, and the Oneida Band of the Thames of Ontario, Canada. Each of the three groups has its own government independent of the others. By 1990 approximately 700 Oneidas lived on the 32-acre reservation in central New York, with a total tribal enrollment in the Oneida Nation of New York of 1,543. In Wisconsin more than 4,800 Oneidas lived on a 2,200-acre reservation, and overall tribal enrollment in the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin was more than 10,000. The Ontario branch had approximately 4,000 members. The settlement pattern of the Oneidas in Wisconsin was largely based on religion. In eight small communities, the Anglicans settled on the northern portion of the reserve and Methodists to the south.

Acculturation and Assimilation


Through all of their moves and changes in economy, the Oneida were able to preserve certain traditions while others faded from use. The Iroquois traditionally lived in longhouses, impressively striking in appearance. According to William M. Fenton, a longhouse typically held from six to ten nuclear families, each of about five or six persons, and two families shared every fire. The size of the longhouses depended on the number of families they sheltered, but each was about 25 feet wide, and the average length was about 80 feet. For each fire, a two-apartment section added about 25 feet to the length of the longhouse. These apartment sections had low flat platforms walled off at both ends by a partition and open in the center, where a fire was shared with the opposite apartment. Food and personal items were stored on long shelves above the platforms, dried food and corn were stored in large bark bins between apartments, and firewood was stacked near the end doors.

Today the Oneida Nation of New York manages a housing program designed to eventually provide single-family homes on aboriginal lands for all the members who want them. Since September of 1994, single-family houses have been built ranging from two to four bedrooms, in addition to duplexes for tribal elders at the Village of the White Pines.

The Oneidas are a matrilineal society, and clan membership follows the mother's family line; however, the Wisconsin Oneida also trace patrilineal descent. Three clans compose Oneida society: the Turtle Clan, the Wolf Clan, and the Bear Clan. The Turtle teaches patience and endurance and represents strength and solidarity; he is old, wise, and well-respected. The Wolf demonstrates keen observation skills in listening and watching and illustrates strong sense of family. The Bear exemplifies gentleness and strength, displaying discipline and control. The Oneida culture also views the eagle as a protector, possessing great vision to watch over all the nations and warn them of danger. The Tree of Peace, a great white pine, is believed by the Iroquois to have been planted by the Peacemaker, who originally inspired the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy centuries before. The roots of this great tree spread out in all four directions, and all the weapons of the Iroquois nations were buried there to create an everlasting peace.

The gift of a wampum belt traditionally accompanied a message of truth, importance, and great significance. A wampum of dark color signaled a serious purpose, sadness, or perhaps great political importance. The Two Row Wampum symbolizes the agreement and conditions under which the Iroquois welcomed the Europeans to this land. Its message: "You say that you are our Father and I am your son. We say, We will not be like father and son, but like Brothers. This wampum belt confirms our words. These two rows will symbolize two paths or two vessels, traveling down the same river side by side. One, a birch bark canoe, for the Indian People, their laws, their customs and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but each foot in our own boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other's vessel."

In 1975, Northeast Wisconsin In-school Telecommunications at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay produced Forest Spirits, a series of seven half-hour programs concerning various aspects of Oneida and Menominee cultural heritage.


The interplanting of corn, pole beans, and squash, referred to as the "Three Sisters," was a key characteristic of Oneida and other Iroquois horticultural practices. The pole beans grew up the corn stalks, providing cover for the squash. Bacteria colonies on the bean roots capture nitrogen for the special needs of the corn. The Three Sisters were central to the spiritual well-being of the Oneidas, protected by Three Sister spirits. Considered special gifts, the three were grown and eaten together, and celebrated together in thanksgiving traditions. The Oneidas also grew some of their own tobacco for ceremonial smoking.


Percussion instruments were predominant in traditional music, which involved narrow melodic lines. Traditional musical instruments included rattles, which were prominent in ceremonies. Some were made from snapping turtles or hickory bark used for the Feather Dance. More commonly, cowhorn rattles with wooden handles and water drums were used. Rasps were another commonly used traditional instrument in dances.


Buckskin clothing, simple in design, was the traditional dress. Women wore a skirt and jacket, men a loincloth with leggings and shirts for cooler weather. Both wore moccasins, sometimes made from corn-husks. Clothing was at times decorated with paint or porcupine-quill embroidery. By the eighteenth century, many Iroquois had adapted European fabrics to their dress. The most common traditional dress of the Iroquois was the women's ribbon dress. Shorter ribbon shirts were worn by men, which were stitched out of printed fabrics and decorated with ribbons, across the upper chest and back, hanging loosely down the front. The Oneida ribbon shirt has become a Pan-Indian garment, worn particularly at pow-wows and other gatherings.

The kostoweh is the traditional Iroquois headdress. Made from an ash splint frame, it is decorated with turkey feathers. Deer horns are mounted on top of a kostoweh worn by a leader.

The Oneidas also did a lot of beadwork. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Oneida women earned a good income by selling beadwork to non-natives at tourist centers. They began to make floral designs with their glass beads and applied these new shapes to many useful things, including pincushions, handbags, sewing cases, and clothing. Oneidas traditionally consider bead working a special gift to share and use often. Bead working, it is believed, came from the Creator to teach patience and humility.


It was believed that ceremonial singing or dancing increased an individual's power. Medicine societies related to healing are prominent in the culture. Traditional dances include the Fish Dance, Women's Dance, and various stomp dances. A Personal Chant form of song, used more recently for thanksgiving, is reminiscent of warrior death songs of the past. The Condolence ceremony, for installing new leaders or for mourning, is also maintained. The Wisconsin Oneida hold the Oneida Powwow annually in July.


Jack Campisi reported two Oneida medicine societies, the False Face and Little Water. To become part of one of these societies an individual either had to be cured one of the societies or had to have dreamed of becoming a part of it. Dreaming was a large part of healing for the Oneidas; an ability to dream and know the future commanded respect. Dreamers were often asked and consulted on different cures for specific ailments. Some belief also existed in different types of witchcraft and magic potions for healing. The Wisconsin Oneida are now served by the Oneida Community Health Center. With revenues from Turning Stone Casino Resort, the New York Oneidas have established a Health Services Department, which treats all Native Americans from a six-county region in central New York State. A wide range of services and preventive care programs are offered.


According to the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a linguistics forum of Wycliff Translators, in 1977, only 250 speakers of Oneidas remained out of a total population of 7,000. The native speakers included members of all three branches, the Oneidas of central New York, eastern Wisconsin, and Ontario. An Iroquoian language, Oneida is most closely related to Mohawk.

The Oneida people consider their language as one of their most precious traditions. Language programs among Oneida communities foster the passing of the language to young people by older members. The Oneidas have produced audio tapes, CD-ROMs, and booklets to teach the traditional language. The dream of many Oneidas is that one day most members will be able to speak the language fluently.


Common Oneida and Iroquoian expressions include: i-kê — I am walking; ikkehe— I see it; onyohsa — squash; oga-oh —it tastes good; kalo-ya — sky or heaven; ganoonyok —thanksgiving speech; onéo— corn; o'gyo-dyo-h— It is snowing; agatho-de— I hear it; and, o-ge-k— I ate it.

Family and Community Dynamics


Like many Native American groups in the late twentieth century, the Oneidas use educational programs as a primary means of maintaining or restoring traditional tribal customs. Gaming revenues in Wisconsin and New York provide substantial funding to support educational initiatives. In the late 1990s, the New York Oneidas established the goal for lifelong learning as a key to continued economic prosperity. Beginning with the Early Learning Center for young children, programs are available for tribal members throughout their lives, including educational programs as part of elders' services. Oneida culture and language are key aspects of the education offered, particularly for the youth programs. The Oneida Education Department sponsors programs for students and adults, including college and career counseling. In a unique partnership with the State University of New York at Morrisville, a degree program in casino management is offered to train future leaders of the Oneida resort. The old tribal bingo hall, replaced by Turning Stone Casino Resort, has been converted into an Educational Resource Center, housing a tribal library, language facility, career resource center, and an adult learning center. In Wisconsin, the Oneida Tribal School (for kindergarten through eighth grade), located in the town of Oneida, is operated under direction of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

"T here is a matriarchal tradition at Oneida. Women are prominent. One of our first tribal chairpersons in the 1940s was a woman..." Roberta Hill Whiteman, (from an interview on July 29, 1991).


Oneida women primarily planted and gathered various plant species, while men cleared forests, constructed houses, hunted, or fought. The women gathered strawberries, huckleberries, blackberries, raspberries, greens, hickory nuts, walnuts, beechnuts, chestnuts, acorns, roots, skunk cabbage, poke, milkweed, and other edibles. Many berries were dried and packed for winter, and several of the nuts were used for their oils as well as for food. Women also gathered firewood and prepared skins and made clothing. A thin cornmeal soup was frequently made, to which pieces of meat, fish, or other foods could be added.


The Condolence ceremony for mourning is an important event in Iroquois society and is influenced by the Hurons' Feast of the Dead. At its height, the Feast of the Dead was held once a decade and involved a ten-day feast. Traditionally, the dead were removed from individual graves and reburied at a common location. Much of the time was spent preparing the corpses for their final placement. Presents brought by friends of the dead were redistributed among those in attendance. Taboos forbade the use of the deceased's name too soon for naming new family members. The modern Feast of the Dead is much less complex.

The Condolence ceremony focuses on deceased leaders and raising up their successors. The ceremony is still practiced where hereditary leaders still persist, such as the Oneidas of the Thames. In the late twentieth century, the ceremony lasts from early afternoon into the evening. A set of rites is performed, including the Condoling Song, which consisted of a hymn of farewell composed of six or more verses. The song is often followed by the Requickening Address, symbolic for restoring life. Most of the ceremony is conducted in a longhouse.


The Oneidas are members of the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the League of the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations. The other nations include the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The confederacy acts through a combined legislative body, the Grand Council. The confederacy was formed centuries ago at the urging of an influential Native American, Peacemaker, who encouraged the union after a vision showing it to be the way to be secure from future threats. The nations also shared a common traditional religion known as the Longhouse Religion, introduced by Seneca prophet Handsome Lake, who died in 1815.


The Oneidas have been influenced by many different religious traditions. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, Handsome Lake, an Iroquoian prophet, experienced visions that formed the basis of what became the Longhouse religion. This monotheistic Native American religion was strongly based on a Christian model, with some ancestral ceremonies included. The Christian influence in the Longhouse religion came from years of contact with neighboring Quakers, Catholics, and Protestants. According to Anthony F. C. Wallace in the Handbook of North American Indians, Handsome Lake's visions were put into a moral code, which outlawed drunkenness, gambling, quarreling, sexual promiscuity, wife-beating, and witchcraft. Although Handsome Lake did not directly come to the Oneidas, some Wisconsin and Canadian Oneidas became believers. The prophet had more visions and kept advising the Iroquois, including on the continuation of celebrating the traditional Oneida religious ceremonies.

The Oneidas were also influenced strongly by Presbyterian minister Samuel Kirkland. The minister established a church among the Oneidas and lived with the tribe for more than 40 years, until his death in 1808. French entrepreneur Pierre Penet established a Catholic mission among the Oneidas. However, the governor of New York removed Penet and the Catholic mission shortly after.

Although many Wisconsin Oneidas have been members of Episcopal and Methodist churches throughout the twentieth century, others continue to adhere to the Longhouse Religion of Handsome Lake.

Employment and Economic Traditions

The traditional economy of the Oneidas included the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash; an extensive hunting territory; fishing stations on Oneida Lake; and the collection of various wild plants such as berries. The Oneidas seasonally hunted deer, bear, and nearly all small mammals, usually using a bow and arrow. They also utilized two kinds of traps, the deadfall and the twitch-up snare. The Iroquoian diet varied enormously, including every kind of mammal, fish, bird, or reptile. After the harvest, hunting parties with all the men and some women left the villages, set up camp, and hunted for days, drying and packing the meat for the upcoming winter.

The American Revolutionary War disrupted the Oneidas' existing economy significantly. Afterwards, communities and fields needed restoration. A massive influx of non-Indians onto Oneida lands also followed the war. Through a series of treaties and agreements, the tribal lands of the Oneidas of New York were reduced to a 32-acre parcel by the end of the nineteenth century. The Oneidas suffered from lack of improvements such as water and septic systems, unpaved narrow roads, and rundown housing.

After passage of the Indian Gaming Act of 1988, the Oneidas of Wisconsin opened a 2,000-slot-machine gambling complex outside Green Bay. They established the Oneida Nation Electronics (ONE) Corporation to manage the facility's electronics systems. The gaming income provided capital for other long-term business ventures. In 1997, the tribe through ONE signed an agreement with Plexus, an electronics manufacturing company, to build a $22 million plant on reservation lands. The plant was to be owned and financed by the Oneidas but operated by Plexus, with the profits shared. The Wisconsin Oneidas have already invested and managed an industrial park, printing company, a bank, hotel, and convenience stores on the reservation. The tribal government uses casino revenues to provide services to Oneida members, such as subsidized housing, health care, and student counseling. Valuing the education of its children, the tribe invested monies in building a day care facility and an elementary school in the shape of a turtle, namesake of an Oneida clan and a familiar character of Oneida oral literature. The tribe has also invested heavily in reviving its culture and language among its youth, through activities such as the creation of a new written form of the Oneida language and the production of a CD-ROM featuring oral literature told by Oneida elders.

In July 1993, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York opened the Turning Stone Casino, which employs nearly 2,000 people. The casino and resort is billed as a world-class tourist destination. It is the only legal casino in New York State. The resort includes a 285-room luxury hotel, five restaurants, several retail establishments known as the Shoppes At Turning Stone, and a recreational park. The addition of a golf course and convention center was planned. In 1998, the resort accommodated well over three million visitors. The resort has been credited with the stimulation of substantial economic growth in central New York.

Through the years the Oneidas have maintained a tenuous relationship with the U.S. government. One issue of continued conflict has been the obligation of the federal government to provide social services to the Oneidas, despite their very small land base. The resort enabled the Oneidas to begin providing long-overdue social programs for their people. Today, the Oneida Nation currently offers numerous programs to its members, including a housing project, Nation Elders' Program, health care, education scholarships and incentive programs, heating assistance, youth programs, and a job network to help members gain employment. The Elders' Program provides rides for elders to the Oneida Nation cookhouse for a luncheon three days a week as well as for museum visits, shopping excursions, and places to visit overnight. The Oneida Nation acquired several businesses in the 1990s, including a textile factory, a recreational vehicle park with a convenience and gift store, a newly built gas station, and a smoke shop. Oneida leaders sought diversity in their business interests as a means to maintain a healthy economy on the reservation, even if casino benefits were to wane or cease altogether. The nation created almost 3,000 jobs directly and claims to have stimulated the creation of another 2,000 jobs in the region. The nation's local payroll in 1998 was more than $82 million. In lieu of paying local taxes due to their sovereign status, the Oneidas provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to local school districts and municipalities.

The pace of economic recovery for the New York Oneidas was staggering. Through the 1990s, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York progressed from employing only a handful of people in two businesses to becoming the largest employer in the Oneida and Madison counties of central New York. The Oneidas became a major tourism promoter for the region. In fact, the economic picture for the Oneidas in New York improved so significantly that the tribe requested the Bureau of Indian Affairs to allocate certain funds earmarked for services for their tribe to other more needy tribes in 1998 and 1999. By the late 1990s, the tribe was providing more than 60 programs and services for tribal members, including a new housing program, a child learning center, elder-care programs, community and development centers, and educational scholarship programs.

When the Oneidas of the Thames moved to Canada in the 1840s to the newly purchased reserve, they were allowed to claim as many acres as they could feasibly clear and farm. Several small communities grew up on the reserve. Through the nineteenth century, subsistence farming was the primary economic pursuit of the tribe, augmented by seasonal lumbering employment. By the twentieth century, however, farming had waned, and members sought wage-labor jobs in white communities. Less fortunate economically than the Oneidas in New York and Wisconsin, the Ontario group still relies on governmental support for basic services.

Politics and Government

Forms of government vary considerably among the three Oneida branches. The Oneidas in Ontario, Canada, instituted a traditional form of government upon their arrival in the 1840s. A tribal council was established on the basis of the three traditional Oneida clans, Wolf, Bear, and Turtle. Each appointed a sachem and deputy to the tribal council. The council was coordinated with the Iroquois council at Six Nations Reserve in Canada. The Ontario Oneidas maintained this traditional system of hereditary leadership until 1934, when considerable internal tribal factionalism consumed the tribe, and the Canadian government imposed an elective form of government to resolve ongoing internal tribal conflict. The Ontario band became governed by a tribal leader and 12 council members elected at-large for two-year terms. The government manages tribal business and activities concerning housing, road maintenance, education, and welfare. The Handsome Lake Long-house Religion continued to be a strong influence for the Ontario group among the minority not accepting the elected form of government.

The Wisconsin Oneidas essentially dissolved their government following the loss of lands in the early twentieth century. With prospects of some lands being restored, the tribe organized an elected form of government in 1937 under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. They adopted an IRA constitution and established the Business Council to govern themselves. The tribe became available for certain federal grants and loans, setting the basis for future economic growth. The Business Council is composed of nine members elected every three years.

The New York Oneidas, based on the remaining small land base has experienced significant political strife in the later twentieth century between one faction favoring an elective form of government and the other favoring a more traditional form based on hereditary clans.

Individual and Group Contributions


Educator Norbert S. Hill Jr. (b. 1946) was born in Warren, Michigan near Detroit. His father was an Oneida/Mohawk and his mother a Canadian Cree. His father, involved in Indian activism, founded the North American Indian Club, which provided support for urban Indians. While a youth, Hill with his family moved to the Wisconsin Oneida Reservation near Green Bay. Hill earned a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh in 1969 and later an M.A. in guidance and counseling from the same institution. After serving as assistant to the dean of students at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Hill became director of the American Indian Education Opportunity Program at the University of Colorado, where he continued his graduate studies. Hill became chair of the Oneida education committee in the early 1970s, which led to a career of community service stressing the role of education in the improvement of tribal well-being. Hill started the noted magazine Winds of Change in 1986 and edited a book of historical and contemporary Indian quotes titled Words of Power. In the 1990s, Hill became board chairman for the proposed Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, overseeing its development. He also served as executive director of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) from 1983 into the 1990s. Among the honors Hill has received are the Chancellor's Award at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh in 1988 and in 1994 a Rockefeller fellowship and an honorary doctor of laws degree from Cumberland College in Kentucky. Hill's brother Robert, also a member of the Oneidas, served as chairman of the Oneida tribe, then as chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. His first cousin is noted poet Roberta Hill Whiteman.


Film actor Graham Greene (b. 1950) has found success in both Canada and the United States. Greene, a full-blooded Oneida, was born on the Iroquois Six Nations Reserve in southwestern Ontario. Before becoming an actor, Greene worked at a number of different jobs, including stints as a steelworker in high-rise construction, a civil technologist, and a draftsman. He also worked as an audio technician for rock 'n' roll bands and owned his own recording studio in Hamilton, Ontario. He began his career in television, film, and radio in 1976. Greene lived for a short time in Britain in the early 1980s, where he performed on stage. Upon his return to Canada, Greene was cast in the British film Revolution, starring Al Pacino and directed by Hugh Hudson. Greene is perhaps best known for his performance in Dances with Wolves, a 1991 film that won several Academy Awards, including the award for best picture. Greene portrayed Kicking Bird, an elder who strove to protect his people from attacks by American authorities. In addition, Greene has been cast in a number of television series and is known for his work in The Campbells, Spirit Bay, Captain Power, Running Brave, Adderley, Night Heat, and Pow-Wow Highway. His performances not restricted to film, Greene became active on the Toronto theater scene, receiving a Dora Mavor Moore Award for best actor for his performance in the acclaimed Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, a highly successful play written by Tomson Highway, a renowned Canadian Cree playwright.

Charlie Hill, a member of the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin, is a comedian who has performed across the United States and released an album, Born Again Savage. He has also appeared in the movie Harold of Orange in 1983.


Many early leaders of the Oneidas were active in maintaining the Oneida land base or recovering lost lands in all three areas of Ontario, Wisconsin, and New York. Their stories reflect Oneida history. Sally Ainse (c. 1728–1823) led a colorful life in early Oneida history following contact with Euro-Americans. Born in the Susquehanna River region of southern Oneida traditional territory, Ainse became a fur trader, landowner, and diplomat. Sally was a trader and landowner in the Fort Stanwix area near present-day Rome, New York, until the American Revolution. Then she moved westward to British-controlled lands in the Detroit region, where she continued trading goods to American Indians for furs. Ainse became an interpreter between warring tribes and the U.S. military in the 1790s. She soon moved again, acquiring extensive lands on the Thames River near present-day Chatham, Ontario. Ainse became involved in a lengthy land dispute with the Canadian government over native land claims.

Laura Cornelius Kellogg (1880–1947), known as Minnie, was a descendent of two earlier influential Oneida leaders. She also became noted for her own oratory skills. Kellogg attended finishing school, traveled in Europe, and attended several well-known institutions such as Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Wisconsin. Minnie was a founder of the Society of American Indians in 1911 and became a national advocate for tribal self-sufficiency. Late in her life, Minnie focused on preservation of the Oneida language and the reacquisition of lost tribal lands.

Mary Cornelius Winder (1898–1954) was an activist for Oneida rights to lands lost in the nineteenth century. While living on the Onondaga Reservation with many other displaced Oneida families, Winder operated a small grocery store. She relentlessly lobbied the U.S. government to honor its 1794 treaty with the Oneidas and for the government to grant full federal recognition to the Oneida Nation. Beginning in the 1940s, she initiated what became a 30-year successful effort before the U.S. Land Claims Commission. She and other tribal members sought recognition that the lands were inappropriately taken. However, upon victory they discovered that monetary awards alone were being offered, not return of the land itself. The Oneidas won a $3.3 million settlement, to be split between the three groups.

The second Native American appointed commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was Robert LaFollette Bennett (b. 1912), Oneida lawyer and administrator. Bennett was born on the Oneida Reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin, and attended the BIA's boarding school at the Haskell Institute in Kansas. Afterwards he studied law at Southeastern University School of Law in Washington, D.C., earning his law degree in 1941. Bennett served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. For his legal work supporting native land claims, he received the Indian Achievement Award in 1962 and Outstanding American Indian Citizen Award in 1966. In 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Bennett head of BIA. He left the BIA in 1969 and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he founded the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. Bennett was director of the American Indian Law Center at the University of New Mexico Law School from 1970 to 1975. He was recognized as Outstanding Member of the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin in 1988.


Late in the 1990s, the New York Oneida Indian Nation purchased the prominent national weekly Indian newspaper Indian Country Today, produced in Rapid City, South Dakota. A new enterprise, Standing Stone Media, Inc., was founded by the tribe to operate the publication. A goal of the Oneidas was to further expand circulation and represent the diverse aspects of contemporary Indian life. The Oneidas essentially took over control from the Lakota/Dakota Sioux.


Poet Roberta Hill Whiteman (b. 1947) earned a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, an M.F.A. from University of Montana, and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. A member of the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin, Whiteman is a noted poet whose work has been included in Carriers of the Dream Wheel: Contemporary Native American Poetry (1975) and The Third Woman: Minority Women Writers of the United States (1980). She published her own collections, Star Quilt in 1984 and Philadelphia Flowers in 1996. Her work also appeared in Harper's Anthology of Twentieth-Century Native American Poetry (1988). Whiteman is noted for a very humanistic style in her poetry, addressing personal and family relationships and the relation of humans to recurrent patterns of nature.


Joanne Shenandoah is an internationally respected recording artist and songwriter whose material often reflects her Oneida heritage. Her releases include Loving Ways on Canyon Records in 1991 and contributions to an album titled In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, dedicated to imprisoned Indian activist Leonard Peltier. Shenandoah, whose father was an Onondaga tribal leader and jazz guitarist, has performed in Europe as well as North America, including the 1991 American Music Festival in San Francisco. Shenandoah founded Round Dance Productions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to native cultural preservation. Shenandoah has also pursued an acting career and is a writer of musical scores and soundtracks.


Several Oneida tribal members have been inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, established in 1972. Martin Wheelock played on the Carlisle football team from 1894 to 1902, earning All-American honors in 1901 and named on the "All University" team by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1902. Elijah Smith participated on the Haskell football, baseball, and track teams between 1923 and 1926, setting a national collegiate record for extra points kicked. He also played baseball and football at Davis & Elkins College between 1927 and 1929. Both Smith and Wheelock were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. Wilson Charles participated in track, football, and basketball at Haskell and University of New Mexico from 1927 to 1931 before becoming a member of the U.S. Olympic decathlon team in 1932. Charles was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972, the first year of its existence. Gordon House, of both Oneida and Navajo ancestry, was the All Armed Forces lightweight boxing champion in 1945 and became the state lightweight boxing champion in Arizona, Nevada, and Texas in 1948. House fought professionally from 1946 to 1949. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985.



Indian Country Today.

A prominent, nationally published weekly newspaper reporting on national news of relevance to Indian nations throughout the United States. Recently purchased and operated by Standing Stone Media, Inc. of the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin.

Address: 7831 N. Grindstone, Hayward, Wisconsin 54843.

Telephone: (715) 634-9672.


Newsletter for the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin.

Address: P.O. Box 98, Oneida, Wisconsin 54155.

The Oneida.

Oneida Nation newsletter that provides tribal reservation news for the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.

Address: 101 Canal St., Canastota, New York 13032.

Telephone: (315) 697-8251.

Ontario Indian.

A monthly newsletter published by the Union of Ontario Indians.

Address: 27 Queen St., East, Toronto, M5C 1R5 Canada.

Telephone: (416) 366-3527.

Organizations and Associations

Assembly of First Nations Resource Centre.

Extensive collection of materials on Ontario Indian tribes including tribal histories and legal histories.

Contact: Kelly Whiteduck.

Address: 47 Clarence St., 3rd Floor, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 9K1 Canada.

Telephone: (613) 236-0673.

Oneida Indian Nation.

Address: Genesee Street, Ames Plaza, Oneida, New York 13421.

Telephone: (315) 361-6300.

Online: .

Oneida of the Thames.

Address: RR#2, Southwold, Ontario N0L 2G0 Canada.

Telephone: (519) 652-3244.

Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

Address: P.O. Box 365, Oneida, Wisconsin 54155.

Telephone: (920) 869-2214.

Wisconsin Indian Lawyers League.

Contact: Gerald L. Hill.

Address: P.O. Box 365, Oneida, Wisconsin 54155.

Telephone: (414) 869-2345.

Museums and Research Centers

Iroquois Indian Museum and Library.

Houses and exhibits the material culture of the Oneidas and other Iroquois Confederacy tribes, exhibits modern craftwork, and offers an educational trail highlighting the ethnobotany of the region.

Contact: Christina B Johannsen or Stephanie E. Shultes.

Address: Box 7, Caverns Road, Howes Cave, New York 12092.

Telephone: (518) 296-8949.

Oneida Nation Museum.

Address: 886 Double E Road, DePere, Wisconsin 54115.

Telephone: (414) 869-2768.

Shako:wi Cultural Center.

Located on tribal lands east of Syracuse, the white pine log building houses Oneida arts and crafts and stories of the tribe's past. The Oneidas use the facility for community gatherings and public presentations.

Address: Rte. 46, New York.

Telephone: (315) 363-1424.

Six Nations Indian Museum and Library.

Houses collections of the material culture of the Oneidas and other tribes composing the Six Nations and research materials on their history.

Contact: Ray Fadden.

Address: Onchiota, New York 12968.

Telephone: (518) 891-0769.

State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library.

Excellent holdings on Indians of Wisconsin and of North America in general.

Contact: R. David Myers.

Address: 816 State St., Madison, Wisconsin 53706.

Telephone: (608) 264-6535.

Sources for Additional Study

Beyond the Covenant Chain: The Iroquois and Their Neighbors in Indian North America, 1600-1800, edited by Daniel K. Richter and James H. Merrell. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987.

Campisi, Jack. "Oneida." Handbook of the North American Indians. Vol. 15: Northeast. Edited by Bruce G. Trigger. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Fenton, William M. "Northern Iroquoian Culture Patterns." Handbook of the North American Indians. Vol. 15: Northeast. Edited by Bruce G. Trigger. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Halbritter, Ray. "The Truth About Land Claims." The Oneida. Vol. 7, No. 6. New York: Oneida Indian Nation, 1996.

The Oneida Indian Experience: Two Perspectives, edited by Jack Campisi and Laurence M. Hauptman. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1988.

Shattuck, George C. The Oneida Land Claims: A Legal History. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1991.

User Contributions:

Larry Fitzgerald
very useful for my social studies research project
Sue Meeks
I recently purchased an Oneida Power Wand, crafted by J. Wilber, which has a large, pointed crystal on one end. I have been trying to find information about what it is and how it is/was used. Because I know very little about Eastern Tribes my "searches" have been somewhat of an exercise in frustration. Any information you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your assistance, Sue Meeks
I am Oneida . I really enjoyed this entire article .
Chris George
I'm Oneida, from the Oneida Nation of the Thames Settlement, in Canada I doing a book about myself my life and times as a North American Native. I'm looking to add more information from my family tree the information I have is from my mother side of the family which on the George/Day side of it go's back to Anthony Day who would be my great, great Grandfather I would like to know who his father name was and his grandfather. Still on my mother side of the family which is on the Cornelius go's back to Abram Cornelius who would have been my great, great, great Grandfather I would like to know who his father's name was and his grandfather. Any information you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

Yaw^ko, Chris J. George
This is a great resource for my social studies project, I really think it's great that you made this
can i trust you >_>
i need good informations for das class
Kevin Hill
I really enjoyed this article about the Oneida's of Wisconsin. Just personal study of the Oneida Nation as a tribute to my Oneida friends/classmates from West De Pere High School (Class of 1982), particularly in memory of the late Jeff Metoxen (1964-2016). Very interesting culture and history. Nicely done.

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