The Oneida or Onyotaa:ka, "The People of the Standing Stone" have lived in their country for more than 10,000 years. They began as most cultures do: gatherers and hunters. Further development led to the permanent settlements of villages. Now they could farm and not just merely hope on luck to get enough food as before. The people lived in longhouses made mostly of bark. They stood 20 feet wide and a 100+ feet long.

The Oneida Nation started at the St. Lawrence River down to present day Pennsylvania. The Oneida, together with the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga and later the Tuscaroga formed the Iroquois Confederacy.

This confederacy was to become the most famous National Government on the continent. Under the Great Law of Peace, the Iroquois Confederacy bound the nations of one blood treating each other as though family. Under the Great Law, members of each nation were divided into clans with the women deciding the leader of each clan.

The Oneida Nation had three clans: Bear, Turtle and Wolf.

The Great Law prevailed for some time. In the 1600s when the Europeans first began to contact these tribes, each nation sought peaceful co-existence as the Law demanded. Eventually, they would trade pelts and furs for brass kettles, spun cloth, iron tools, etc. . .

Then the American colonies began to rise up. The Oneida were the first allies of their cause. The other tribes sided with better supplied and equiped army of the British. The horrible winter at Valley Forge everyone reads about naught mention the 600 bushels of corn the Oneida carried there for them. Nor is told of the most courageous woman, Polly Cooper, who remained with Washington's frozen troops to teach them the proper usage of the corn and rationing.

In December 1777 the Continental Congress had this to say of the Oneida: "Hearken to what we have to say to you in particular. . .It rejoices our hearts that we have no reason to reproach you in common with the rest of the Six Nations.

"We have experienced your love, strong as the oak, and your fidelity, unchangeable as truth. You have kept fast hold of the ancient covenant-chain, and preserved it free from rust and decay, and bright as silver. Like brave men, for glory you despised danger; you stoof forth, in the cause of your friends, and ventured your lived in our battles. While the sun and moon continue to give light to the world, we shall love and respect you. As our trusted friends, we shall protect you; and shall at all times consider your welfare as our own".

The Oneida did suffer for backing the Americans. The other of the Six Nations continued attacks against the Oneida fortress and lands until they were forced out from their homes as refugees until 1784 when they finally returned home.

1794 saw a magnificent document: The Treaty of Canandaigua granting the Oneida special protection for their lands and continual recognition of their sovereignty. This treaty was different from those granted other nations. The treaty reads:

"WHEREAS, in the late war between Great-Britain and the United States of America, a body of the Oneida and Tuscorora and the Stockbridge Indians, adhered faithfully to the United States, and assisted them with their warriors; and in consequence of this adherence and assistance, the Oneidas and Tuscororas, at an unfortunate period of the war, were driven from their homes, and their houses were burnt and their property destroyed: And as the United States in the time of their distress, acknowledged their obligations to these faithful friends, and promised to reward them.

Return to Table of Contents