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The Gift of Song – in Oneida

Government Administrative Office

Government Administrative Office

The Oneida Business Committee (OBC) recently delivered a Holiday Message to the community with beautiful backing music sung in the Oneida language. Community reaction to the song has been overwhelming, and as a result all 18 tracks of this group of friends singing Christmas carols in Oneida is now being made available as a gift for the public’s enjoyment.

Emily Johnson, the Oneida community member who provided the CD with the recorded songs, shared how her late sisters and their friend George Ninham came to record the tracks. “They were really more of a family and friends thing than an actual group,” Johnson said. “My sisters, Rose Cornelius Laitinen and Shirley Cornelius Lafleur, and the late George Ninham were very close friends who were always together singing for the simple enjoyment of it. Shirley’s niece, Renee Lafleur, is also featured on the tracks. So, they weren’t the “official” Oneida Singers or any other group, they were just really good friends who enjoyed singing together.

“Sometimes my sisters would come up to our mother’s house in Oneida and they would sing all day and into the night,” Johnson said. “Both of my sisters were adamant about preserving these songs, so Rose formed this group she called the Preservation Singers who also produced several more cassette recordings. Since they didn’t reside in Oneida at the time, they weren’t really part of the Oneida Singers group, but they were active in a Milwaukee-area Oneida Singers group. They would often come up from their homes in Milwaukee to help them sing at funerals and things of that nature.”

Now the lead Oneida singer of a new group of friends, Emily was moved when she heard her sister’s voices in the OBC Holiday Message. “When I heard the song again on Facebook, I cried,” Johnson said. “Both of my sisters passed away very recently within a year of each other, so this was such an amazing tribute to them and George.”

Believed to have been recorded in Oneida in the early to mid-1980s, these 18 tracks are now being made available for the first time by Johnson for the listening enjoyment of the Oneida Nation and greater community. Happy Holidays from Emily Johnson, the Oneida Business Committee, and the Government Administrative Office and Communications teams.

Please enjoy all of these beautiful recordings sung in the Oneida language: