Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oneida Tribe - Iroquois Nation

Oneida Tribe in New York

Oneida (Anglicized compressed form of the common Iroquois term tiionǎñ'iote', 'there it  it-rock  has-set-up (continuative),' i. e. a rock that something set up and is still standing, referring to a large sienite bowlder near the site of one of their ancient villages). A tribe of the Iroquois confederation, formerly occupying the country south of Oneida Lake, Oneida county, N. Y., and latterly including the upper waters of the Susquehanna. According to authentic tradition, the Oneida was the second tribe to accept the proposition of Dekanawida and Hiawatha to form a defensive and offensive league of all the tribes of men for the promotion of mutual welfare and security.

The Revolutionary War

The Oneidas, along with the five other tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, initially maintained a policy of neutrality in the American Revolution. This policy allowed the Confederacy increased leverage against both sides in the war, because they could threaten to join one side or the other in the event of any provocation. Neutrality quickly crumbled, however. The preponderance of the Mohawks, Senecas, Cayugas, and Onondagas sided with the Loyalists and British.

The Oneidas Favored the Colonists

For some time, the Oneidas continued advocating neutrality and attempted to restore consensus among the six tribes of the Confederacy. But ultimately the Oneidas, as well, had to choose a side. Because of their proximity and relations with the rebel communities, most Oneidas favored the colonists. In contrast, the pro-British tribes were closer to the British stronghold at Fort Niagara. In addition, the Oneidas were influenced by the Protestant missionary Samuel Kirkland, who had spent several decades among them and through whom they had begun to form stronger cultural links to the colonists.

The Oneidas officially joined the rebel side and contributed in many ways to the war effort. Their warriors were often used to scout on offensive campaigns and to assess enemy operations around Fort Stanwix (also known as Fort Schuyler). The Oneidas also provided an open line of communication between the rebels and their Iroquois foes. In 1777 at the Battle of Oriskany, about fifty Oneida fought alongside the colonial militia.

Formed Friendship with George Washington

Many Oneidas formed friendships with Philip Schuyler, George Washington, the Marquis de La Fayette, and other prominent rebel leaders. These men recognized the Oneida contributions during and after the war. The US Congress declared, "sooner should a mother forget her children" than we should forget you.

Oneidas move to Canada

Although the tribe had taken the colonists' side, individuals within the Oneida nation possessed the right to make their own choices. A minority supported the British. As the war progressed and the Oneida position became more dire, this minority grew more numerous. When the important Oneida settlement at Kanonwalohale was destroyed, numerous Oneidas defected from the rebellion and relocated to Fort Niagara to live under British protection.

1794 Treaty of Canandaigua

After the war, the Oneida were displaced by retaliatory and other raids. In 1794 they, along with other Haudenosaunee nations, signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States. They were granted 6 million acres (24,000 km²) of lands, primarily in New York; this was effectively the first Indian reservation in the United States. Subsequent treaties and actions by the State of New York drastically reduced their land to 32 acres (0.1 km²). In the 1830s many of the Oneida relocated into Canada and Wisconsin, because the United States was requiring Indian removals from eastern states.

1970s Litigation

In 1970 and 1974 the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, and the Oneida Nation of the Thames filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York to reclaim land taken from them by New York without approval of the United States Congress.


In 1998, the United States intervened in the lawsuits on behalf of the plaintiffs in the claim so the claim could proceed against New York State. The state had asserted immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Defendants moved for summary judgment based on the U. S. Supreme Court's decision in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation and the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals' decision in Cayuga Indian Nation v. New York. 

Other Litigation

On May 21, 2007, Judge Kahn dismissed the Oneida's possessory land claims and allowed the non-possessory claims to proceed.

More recent litigation has formalized the split and defined the separate interests of the Oneida tribe that stayed in New York and the Oneida tribe that left to live in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Oneida tribe has brought suit to reacquire lands in their ancestral homelands as part of the settlement of the aforementioned litigation.