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The Oneida (Onyota'a:ka or Onayotekaono, meaning the People of the Upright Stone, or standing stone, Thwahrù•nęˀ in Tuscarora) are a Native American/First Nations people and are one of the five founding nations of the Iroquois Confederacy in the area of upstate New York. The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee ("The people of the longhouses") in reference to their communal lifestyle and the construction of their dwellings.
The name Oneida is the English mispronunciation of Onyota'a:ka. Onyota'a:ka means "People of the Standing Stone". The identity of the People of the Standing Stone is based on a legend in which the Oneida people were being pursued on foot by an enemy tribe. The Oneida people were chased into a clearing within the woodlands and suddenly disappeared. The enemy of the Oneida could not find them and so it was said that these people had turned themselves into stones that stood in the clearing. As a result, they became known as the People of the Standing Stone.
There are older legends in which the Oneida people self-identify as the "Big Tree People". Not much is written about this and Iroquoian elders would have to be consulted on the oral history of this identification. This may simply correspond to other Iroquoian notions of the Great Tree of Peace and the associated belief system of the people.
Individuals born into the Oneida Nation are identified according to their spirit name, or what we now call an Indian name, their clan, and their family unit within a clan. Each gender, clan and family unit within a clan all have particular duties and responsibilities. Clan identities go back to the Creation Story of the Onyota'a:ka peoples. The people identify with three clans: the Wolf, Turtle or Bear clans. A person's clan is the same as his or her mother's clan.
Although colonizing forces tried to assimilate or extinguish the Original Nations of North America, the majority of the Oneida Nation people who descend from the Oneida Settlement can still identify their clan. Further, if a person does not have a clan because their mother is not Oneida, then the Nation still makes provisions for customary adoptions into one of the clans. The act of adopting is primarily a responsibility of the Wolf clan, so many adoptees are identified as Wolf.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 (). 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. Their desire for land in New York is in order to operate a casino there, with economic return anticipated in lieu of a large cash settlement by the state; these proposals are also a part of the ongoing litigation.
The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin is a sovereign nation, enjoying the same tribal sovereignty as all recognized Indian tribes in the United States. Theirs is a limited sovereignty—the tribes are recognized as "domestic dependent nations" within the United States—but to the degree permitted by that sovereignty, they are an independent nation outside of state law. The tribe's sovereignty means the state of Wisconsin is limited in the extent to which it can intervene legally in tribal matters.
With a series of casinos and a resort near Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Oneida tribe has, in a matter of only a few decades, gone from being a destitute people to enjoying a fair amount of social prosperity by investing a large portion of their profits back into their community, including a sponsorship of the Green Bay Packers. The means by which the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin betters its community has raised controversy, as has Indian gaming throughout the country. The lottery game Big Green offered on the reservation pre-dates the launch of the statewide Wisconsin Lottery.
The new wealth generated by the tribe's gaming and other enterprises has enabled the tribe to provide many benefits for the members on the tribal rolls. Oneidas have free dental, medical and optical insurance, and they receive $800 every October. As with all other tribes, the Oneidas define who qualifies to be on those rolls. The Oneidas' requirements are fairly liberal, based entirely on blood quantum: members are those with at least 1/4 Oneida blood. There is no additional requirement of matrilineality, as with the New York Oneidas and other tribes.
Many citizens of Green Bay, and many members of the Oneida tribe, have voiced concerns about the long-term detrimental effects a casino could have on the social structure and economy of Green Bay and within the tribe.