The Oneida Indians are one of the six tribes that belong to the Iroquois Confederacy.
Tribal Origin: Iroquois Confederacy
Native Name: Onyota’a:ka or Onayotekaono, means ‘People of the Upright Stone’
Home Territories: New York, Wisconsin and Ontario
Alliances: Tuscarora, Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga
Enemies: The Fox, the Illinois and the Algonquin
The Oneida Indians were one of the tribes of the Iroquois confederation, formerly occupying the country south of Oneida Lake, Oneida county, New York, and later including the upper waters of the Susquehanna.
According to tribal tradition, the Oneida was the second tribe to accept the proposition of Dekanawida and Hiawatha to form a defensive and offensive league for the promotion of mutual welfare and security.
In the federal council and in other federal assemblies they have the right to representation by 9 federal chieftains of the highest rank.
Like the Mohawk, the Oneida have only 3 clans, the Turtle, the Wolf, and the Bear, each clan being represented by 3 of the 9 federal representatives.
Insofar as eldership as a member of a clan phratry call give precedence in roll-call and the right to discuss first in order all matters coming before its side of the council fire, the Oneida are the dominant tribe within the tribal phratry, called the Four (originally Two) Brothers and “Offspring,” to which they belong.
In tribal assemblies the Turtle and the Wolf constitute a clan phratry, and the Bear another.
In 1660 the Oneida with the Mohawk were the least populous of the Iroquois tribes.
The Oneida have usually been a conservative people in their dealing with their allies and with other peoples.
In 1635 they, with the Onondaga, Cayuga, and Mohawk, sought to become parties to the peace concluded in the preceding year between the Seneca and the Hurons. At this period they were called sedentary and very populous, but only from Indian reports.
The Jesuit Relation for 1646 says that with the exception of the Mohawk there was no treaty, properly speaking, then in existence between the Iroquois tribes inclusive of the Oneida and the French.
From the same Relation it is learned that “Onnieoute” (Oneniote), the principal Oneida village of that time, having lost the greater portion of its men in a war with the “upper Algonquin,” was compelled to request the Mohawk to lend aid in repeopling the village by granting thereto a colony of men, and that it was for this reason that the Mohawk ceremonially and publicly call the Oneida their daughter or son.
This story is probably due to a misconception of the fictitious political kinships and relationships established between the several tribes at the time of the institution and organization of the League.
The Cayuga and the Tuscarora are likewise called “Offspring,” but not for the reason above given. The Jesuit Relation for 1648 first definitely locates the Oneida.
From the Relation for 1641 it is gathered that the Jesuit fathers had learned that the Oneida had a peculiar form of government in which the rulership alternated between the two sexes.
This statement is likewise apparently due to a misconception of the fact that among Iroquois tribes the titles to the chiefships belonged to the women of certain clans in the tribe and not to the men, although men were chosen by the women to exercise the rights and privileges and to perform the duties pertaining to these chiefships.
There were, and indeed still are, a number of women filling federal chiefships bearing the name of the highest class.
These women chieftains have approximately the game rights, privileges, and immunities as the men chiefs, but exercise them fully only in emergencies; they, too, maintain the institutions of society and government among the women.
The Jesuit Relation for 1667 declares that the Oneida were at that time the least tractable of the Iroquois tribes.
It was at this period that Father Bruyas was stationed at the mission of St Francois Xavier among the Oneida. It is also learned from this source that the Mohegan and the Conestoga menaced the Oneida.
While on this mission Father Bruyas suffered for food for a part of the year and was compelled to sustain life on a diet of dried frogs. By the end of the year 1669 he had baptized 30 persons.
The Jesuit Relation for 1669-70 speaks of the Oneida being present at a ” feast of the dead ” held at the Mohawk village of Caughnawaga, showing that in a modified form at least the decennial ceremony of the so-called “Dead Feast” was practiced among the Iroquois when first known.
On January 8, 1671, the Oneida began the torture of a captive Conestoga woman, and the torture was prolonged through 2 days and 2 nights because he in whose stead she had been given was burned at Conestoga for that length of time.
It is held by some that the town defended by four lines of palisades closely fastened together and attacked by Champlain in 1615 with his Huron and Algonquian allies, was an Oneida village, although other authorities place it elsewhere, in Onondaga territory.
In fact, the wars of the Oneida were those of the Iroquois League, although like the other tribes they seem to have put forth most energy against the tribes who in some manner had given them the greatest offense.
The Catawba and the Muskhogean tribes, as well as the Susquehanna river Indians, the Conestoga, gave most occupation to the Oneida warriors.
After the conquest of the tribes on the Susquehanna and its tributaries and those on the Potomac, chiefly by the warriors of the Oneida, the Cayuga, and the Seneca, and those tribes which had submitted to Iroquois rule, a question arose as to the propriety of the Mohawk, who had not given any aid in subduing these peoples, sharing in the income arising from land sales there.
Hence for a time the Mohawk received no emolument from this source, until the Iroquois tribes became divided and the Mohawk sold the lands in the Wyoming Valley region of Pennsylvania to the Susquehanna Land Co. of Connecticut.
This, then, in 1728, moved the great federal council of the league at Onondaga to send Shikellamy, an Oneida chief, as a superintendent, to the forks of the Susquehanna for the of watching over the affairs, purpose and the interests of the Six Nations of Iroquois in Pennsylvania.
At first Shikellarny exercised a general supervision over only the Shawnee and the Delaware, who thereafter were required to consult him in all matters arising between them and the proprietary government.
So well did he perform his duty that in 1745 Shikellamy was made full superintendent over all the dependent tribes on the Susquehanna, with his residence at Shamokin.
He showed great astuteness in the management of the affairs entrusted to his care, seeking at all times to promote the interests of his people.
Such was the influence which the Oneida exercised on the Susquehanna.
In 1687 the Oneida were included in the warrant of the King of Great Britain to Gov. Dongan of New York, authorizing him to protect the Five Nations as subjects of Great Britain. In 1696 Count Frontenac burned the Oneida castle, destroyed all their corn, and made prisoners of 30 men, women, and children.
In 1645-46 the Oneida were at war with the Nipissing, and one band of 17 warriors from “Ononiiote” defeated an Algonkin party under Teswehat, the one-eyed chief of this people, killing the chief’s son and taking 2 women prisoners.
This Iroquois party was afterward defeated by 30 Hurons and the 2 women were recaptured.
In the Jesuit Relation for 1666-68 Father Bruyas writes that the Oneida were reputed the most cruel of all the Iroquois tribes; that they had always made war on the Algonkin and the Hurons, and that two-thirds of the population of their villages were composed of the people of these two tribes who had become Iroquois in temper and inclination.
This missionary adds that the nature of the Oneida was then altogether barbarous, being cruel, sly, cunning, and prone to blood shed and carnage.
In 1655 a party of 60 Oneida warriors was sent against the Amikwa, or Beaver Indians. This war was still in progress in 1661, for in that year 2 bands, one of 24 and the other of 30 warriors, were to fight the encountered on their way to fight the Amikwa.
Chauchetiere says that “war is blazing in the country of the Outaouaks,” that the Iroquois, especially the Oneida, continued their hatred of the Outagami (Foxes) and the Illinois, and so have slain and captured many Illinois. In 1681 they killed or captured about 1,000 of these unfortunate people.
In 1711, about half of the Tuscarora tribe, then dwelling in North Carolina, seems to have conspired with several alien neighboring tribes and bands to destroy the Carolina settlers.
The colonists, however, recollecting the ancient feud between the Southern and the Northern Indians, allied themselves with the Catawba and some Muskhogean tribes.
The Tuscarora, sustaining several severe defeats, were finally driven from their homes and hunting grounds. This act of the Southern Indians made the hatred of the Iroquois against the Catawba more bitter and merciless.
The Oneida were at times friendly to the French and to the Jesuit missionaries, while the other Iroquois were their determined enemies.
A great part of the Oneida and the Tuscarora, through the influence of Rev. Samuel Kirkland, remained neutral in the Revolutionary war, while the majority of the confederation of the Iroquois were divided and did not act as a unit in this matter.
Early in that struggle the hostile Iroquois tribes attacked the Oneida and burned one of their villages, forcing then to take refuge near the Americans in the vicinity of Schenectady, where they remained until the close of the war.Shortly after the main body of the tribe returned to their former homes.
At a later period a considerable number emigrated to Canada and settled on Grand River and Thames River, Ontario. Another small band, called Oriskas, formed a new settlement at Ganowarohare, a few miles from the main body in Oneida County, New York.
At different earlier periods the Oneida adopted and gave lands to the Tuscarora, the Stockbridges, and the Brotherton. The Tuscarora afterward removed to land granted by the Seneca in west New York.
In 1846, having sold most of their lands in New York, the greater part of the Oneida, together with their last two adopted tribes, removed to a tract on Green Bay, Wisconsin, where they resided in 1905.
Among those living in New York at the time of removal were two parties known respectively as the First Christian, and the Second Christian or Orchard party.
The Oneida entered into treaties with the United States at:
Ft Stanwix, N. Y., October 22, 1784.
Ft Harmar, O., January 9, 1789.
Canandaigua, N. Y., November 11, 1794.
Oneida, N. Y., December 2, 1794.
Buffalo Creek, N. Y., January 15, 1838.
Washington, D. C., February 3, 1838
They also held no fewer than 30 treaties with the State of New York between the years 1788 and 1842.
The estimates of Oneida population at different periods are no more satisfactory than those relating to the other Iroquois tribes. The earliest account in 1660 gives a population of 1500. They are placed at 1,000 in 1677 and 1721.
In 1770 they were estimated at 410, in 1776 at 628, and in 1795 at 660, and were said to have been decreasing for a long time. They numbered about 3,220 in 1906.
Oneida Tribes Today:
Oneida Indian Nation of New York
Oneida Nation of Wisconsin
Oneida Nation of the Thames in Ontario, Canada
Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, Canada
Famous Oneida Indians
Herbert “Herb” Powless – One of the original founders of AIM.
Graham Greene – Oneida actor from the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Canada.