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Who We Are

A Historical Perspective

For centuries prior to the American Revolution, the Oneida Nation controlled millions of acres of dense forests, beautiful lakes and rivers abundant with game and resources that provided their people with prosperous livelihoods.

Oneida villages were constructed of multifamily longhouses which were protected by surrounding palisades. Within these walls dwelled entire communities complete with sophisticated agricultural beds, these were fields sometimes 700 acres outside, but near their village.

Upon returning home after the Revolutionary War, however, Oneida Warriors found their villages had been burning and pillaged by enemies who fought for Great Britain.

The Oneida Nation had ceded 6 million acres of land within the state of New York through two treaties in 1785 and 1788, prior to the Constitution.

The state of New York and various land companies conspired to remove the Iroquois from their homelands, especially the Oneida, whose land was in direct route of the Erie Canal.

In 1821, a delegation of the Six Nations met with representatives from the Menominee and Winnebago Nations to negotiate for fertile and open lands along the western Great Lakes. In an 1822 Treaty, the Oneida then purchased a usufructuary right to millions of acres of land in a territory that would soon become the state of Wisconsin.

Led by Eleazer Williams, an Episcopal Minister reputed to be the long lost Dauphin of France, and Chief Daniel Bread, the first movement of Oneidas to Wisconsin settled in what is now the Grand Chute and Kaukauna area. Dubbed the First Christian Party, this group of 448 people were Tribal members who had embraced Christianity.

One year later, the Second Christian Party, sometimes called the Orchard Party – a group composed of 206 Oneidas who were primarily Methodist – arrived from New York and settled along the southern area of Duck Creek.

Official reservation boundaries were established with the 1838 Treaty with the Oneidas, and in 1841 another migration of Oneidas arrived in Northeastern Wisconsin. This group of 44 people was referred to as the Pagan Party. As the only group that had not embraced Christianity, they settled around the area known today as Chicago Corners, north of freedom, and were more isolated than the rest.

Once again, however, Oneida lands would fall prey to United States expansion. In 1887, Congress passed the Indian Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act) which allocated the land to individuals.

Through the next several years, reservation lands continued to dwindle. Since the concept of taxation was so new and not understood by the Oneida people, many Oneidas lost their lands by failing to pay their taxes. Many also lost their lands due to the fraudulent methods of ruthless land companies and invasion of non-Indians who desired their fertile lands. By 1929, all but a few hundred acres had been lost.

Reorganization of the government and stopping the loss of land came with the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. It provided the foundation for drafting and adopting the Oneida Constitution two years later, which transformed the Tribal government to an elected system with four members serving on a Tribal government to an elected system with four members serving on a Tribal Council.  This decision, however, was always questioned by the membership because a true majority of Tribal members did not participate in the vote. Traditionalists who opposed their voices were not heard.

Ultimately, however, the Oneida IRA Charter was approved by the Tribe in 1937, and 1,270 acres of land were bought back by the government and placed in trust for the Oneida Nation.

Unfortunately, these developments were unable to counter the harsh economic impact levied by the Depression. With the exception of very limited farming, the opportunity for employment on the Oneida reservation was virtually nonexistent. Substandard living conditions remained widespread well into the 1950’s beyond. Many young Oneida families took advantage of the Federal Relocation Program and other opportunities to leave the reservation in the hope of finding a better way of life in the cities.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s, two hundred years after the Oneida people had been forced from their lands in New York that the tides began to turn. Competitive grants were received to fund healthcare and education. In 1972, a community development block grant funded the construction of the Oneida Nation Memorial Building which was originally designed as a youth recreation center. Today it is commonly known as the “Civic Center” and through the years has housed the health center, Tribal business committee offices, and social services department.

These developments began the momentum that would make the 1980’s the progressive decade for the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin. A jurisdictional lawsuit that had dogged the Tribe for years was finally thrown out of court, and the Oneidas retained their sovereign right to regulate their own lands. With the land base increased to over 6,000 acres, the addition of a Tribal school, and soaring employment opportunities, the Oneida Reservation once again has an economy.

When Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, it effectively recognized Tribal governments as sovereign nations. The act further provided the tribes with the ability to regulate various classes of gaming on their reservations. In 1991, for the first time in Wisconsin history, the Oneida Nation entered into a compactual agreement with the state government.

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