The Oneida (Onyota'a:ka or Onayotekaono), meaning the People of the Upright Stone, or the People of the Standing Stone, are one of the five founding nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy. The Oneida inhabited the areas around what later became known as Oneida Lake and Oneida County in Central New York.
The Haudenosaunee decided to remain neutral during the American Revolutionary War. However, the Oneidas lived in close proximity to rebel colonial communities and so most Oneidas favored the colonists. Eventually, the Oneidas officially joined the colonists and contributed to their war effort.
In 1794 the Oneida, along with other Haudenosaunee nations, signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States. The Oneida were granted 6 million acres of lands, primarily in New York State. This land grant was one of the first Indian reservations in the United States. Subsequent treaties and actions drastically reduced the Oneida Reservation to 32 acres. In the 1830s, many Oneida relocated to Canada and Wisconsin.
There are 4 Oneida communities in the United States and Canada shown in blue on the map above.
Click on the images below for information on each of the four Oneida communities.
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The community of Oneida is located in central New York, east of Syracuse. The reservation is about 13,000 acres in size and home to about 500 Oneidas. Oneida has a library, Children and Elders Center, gym, and recreation program with hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and softball teams for all ages. Like many Haudenosaunee communities, Oneida also has its own cultural center dedicated to teaching and preserving the Oneida culture. Oneida’s center is called Shako:wi (“he gives”) and it is named after Dick Chrisjohn, a respected Oneida Wolf Clan artist and teacher. The Center welcomes hundreds of people who come to the reservation to learn about Oneida history and culture. There, students from local schools get to learn from an Oneida point of view. They learn about the Great Law of Peace, music, and how Oneida people’s lives changed after Colonial contact.
Oneida has a large variety of community-owned businesses. The Turning Stone Resort and Casino was founded in 1993 at Oneida and today is one of the top five tourist destinations in New York State. There are marinas and fishing retreats for vacationers, golf courses, gas stations, and a weekly newspaper called Indian Country Today. Four Directions Media makes props, creates animation, and encourages up and coming Native actors. The income from these businesses supports education, housing, health services, and programs for Oneida children and elders. It also provides for the Nation’s college scholarship program. College tuition and living expenses are paid for by the Nation for any Oneidas who want to continue to learn after high school graduation. More than 150 Oneidas have graduated from college since the scholarship program was established.
Not only the adults enjoy sharing their heritage and traditions. Young Oneida’s proudly demonstrate social dancing at the New York State Fair and local festivals. The Silver Hawks team features youth 9 – 16 and keeps the ancient game of lacrosse in the news. In 2008, students from the Oneida reservation created a five-minute video postcard about beadwork, lacrosse, and making fry bread. They exchanged their postcard with a school in Pertunmaa, Finland!
Work skills are valuable to everyone and young Oneida are no different. Young people 13 – 20 can join the Youth Work/Learn Program. In the Program each day starts with an Oneida language lesson and fieldwork on an archaeological dig. The remainder of the day is spent doing maintenance jobs in the community, helping in the Early Learning Center, or working for the 4 Directions Media Project. According to Haudenosaunee traditions, the future of the nation and the well being of future generations are very important. In order to insure that the earth will stay healthy for those future generations, the Oneida have been working hard to protect wetlands, manage stormwater, reduce garbage, and prevent pollution on their lands.
The Oneida Nation of the Thames is located in southwestern Ontario on what is commonly referred to as the "Oneida Settlement", near London, Ontario. The Oneida Nation of the Thames was purchased by a small group of Christian Oneida who relocated there from New York State in the 1840s. The Settlement is part of the traditional hunting area known as the Beaver Hunting Grounds, which was recognized in the 1701 Nanfan Treaty. Since the early days of the settlement, over half of the population has practiced either the Methodist or Anglican religion.
The Oneida Settlement is different from a “reserve” or “reservation” in that the lands were purchased by the Oneida and not “reserved” for them by the Canadian government. Despite this distinction, the Canadian government treats the Settlement as a reserve. One of the primary reasons that the Oneida do not protest this status vehemently is the fear that if the governement agrees that the land is privately owned, they would then be required to pay taxes. Under the status of a reserve they are exempt from taxation. The community holds elections for self-government under the Indian Act and also has a hereditary government structure in place.
The community contains three sub-divisions, a community center, and three parks. The Oneida Settlement has a traditional long house and government, of which there are two factions, one is generally called the River Road Longhouse which follows the Code of Handsome Lake, and the other is called the Elijah Road Longhouse and only follows the Great law, and does not recognize the Handsome Lake teachings . There are several craft shops, variety stores, gas bars, and a great number of smoke shops. The Settlement has two elementary schools, a health clinic, a radio station, an administration building, golden ages rest home, a volunteer fire hall/ambulance station, water treatment facility, sewage treatment facilities, public works building, community centre, police station and a training centre.
The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin was originally part of the Oneida Nation of New York. During the Revolutionary War the Oneida at first tried to remain neutral, but soon were forced to choose a side. Most Oneidas supported the colonists. After the War, the Oneida soldiers returned to find their villages burned and looted. Although the Oneida originally controlled 5.3 million acres of land in what is now New York State, treaties with the United States eventually reduced their land base to 32 acres. Efforts by the United States government to remove the Oneida from valuable lands in the east, especially those in the path of what was to become the Erie Canal, led some of the Oneida to seek a new home.
In 1822 the Oneida purchased land from the Menominee and Winnebago Nations in the Great Lakes region. Eleazor Williams, a Christian Mohawk who ran a children’s school, influenced many Oneida families to relocate to the Wisconsin territory by speaking with the clan mothers and women in the community. These families and others from New York formed the foundation of a new community. Today, the Oneida of Wisconsin share ownership of 4,600 acres southwest of Green Bay, Wisconsin. They are the largest Oneida group, with approximately 12,000 tribal members. They have a General Tribal Council and elect a Business Committee of nine individuals that represent and govern the community. They take special pride in their military veterans and honor and remember those who have fought with the United States in every war since the Revolution.
Oneida Elderly Services Bus, 2010 There is a lot of activity in this large community. Oneida has a bingo hall and casino, resort, and a buffalo farm. Income from these industries is invested back into the community, funding scholarships for college, dental and medical coverage, senior housing, a museum, arts, and language programs. The tribe is also a sponsor of the Green Bay Packers. For children and adults alike, there’s a chance to catch up with friends and make new ones at the Farmer’s Market or the annual 4th of July powwow. The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin is a modern community that still values many of the things that were important to their ancestors. The SEEDS program provides money to send Oneida artists and dancers into public schools to teach about Oneida history and culture. Elders and others meet and organize to try to save the endangered Oneida language. The Oneida Nation or “Turtle” School teaches all the regular subjects but also Oneida language, music, and traditions. Individuals of all ages are working together to keep their culture alive.
The Six Nations of the Grand River is a reserve located approximately 25 km southwest of the city of Hamilton, Ontario; between the cities of Brantford, Caledonia, and Hagersville. During the American Revolution, Captain Joseph Brant convinced many Iroquois to ally with the British. For their aid during the war, they were deeded a tract of land along the Grand River in Ontario. Much of the original tract was surrendered or sold and the reserve currently has 46,000 acres.
The Six Nations of the Grand River has the largest population of all First Nations in Canada. In 2005, total band membership was 22,294 with 11,297 people living within the Six Nations Reserve. The Reserve is centered on the village of Ohsweken and is home to newspapers, approximately 300 native businesses, a library, an arena and other sports facilities, social services, including men and women's shelter and band council offices, shopping centers, several schools, four longhouses, and numerous churches. The reserve has both a traditional Iroquois council of chiefs and an elected band council conforming to Canadian government requirements.
There are approximately 2,674 houses on the Reserve, most in rural areas, with a few in urban subdivisions. Fire protection is provided by the Six Nations Volunteer Fire department.