What is the Oneida Reservation?

Lisa O'Meara

The Oneida Reservation is a parcel of land in Wisconsin that was granted to members of the Oneida Nation of Native American Indians in 1887. Situated southwest of Green Bay on the eastern edge of Wisconsin, the rectangular-shaped reservation measures approximately 102 square miles (about 265 square km), or a little more than 65,000 acres. A portion of the land in the Oneida Reservation is owned by the tribe and the remainder is held in trust by the Unites States (US) Federal Government.

Casino gaming facilities are located on the Oneida Reservation.
Casino gaming facilities are located on the Oneida Reservation.

Historically, the ancestral home of the Oneida is in New York where they controlled roughly 6 million acres (about 24,400 square km) at the time of the American Revolutionary. After the war, tribal holdings dwindled to around 4,500 acres (about 18 square km) as a result of the government's practice of Indian removal. Faced with further encroachment by the colonists, the Oneida purchased about 5 million acres of government land near the Green Bay area and proceeded to move some of their population to Wisconsin. In 1887, after various machinations by the government reduced tribal holdings, the Indian Allotment Act granted 650 Oneida tribal members 100 acres (about .41 square km) apiece.

The Oneida operate their own health care facilities, as well as administer education, housing and legal services on their Wisconsin reservation.
The Oneida operate their own health care facilities, as well as administer education, housing and legal services on their Wisconsin reservation.

There are approximately 12,000 registered members of the Oneida Nation of Indians in Wisconsin and an estimated 2,500 of them call the Oneida Reservation home. As a tribal sovereignty, the Oneida government is autonomous and operates independently of Wisconsin state laws. Employing about 1,000 people, the government offers numerous social services to its members, including dental and medical insurance, higher education, food pantry, police, library, a community health center, parks, and elementary school.

Much of the revenue needed to provide these services comes from gaming. The Oneida Reservation is the site of the Oneida Casino, which opened in 1993 and offers a variety of gaming and off-track betting, as well as a 1,100 seat pavilion for concerts. A bingo hall and several smaller casinos round out the gaming facilities. The Oneida Reservation has obtained additional revenue from its acquisition of the Thornberry Creek Country Club — an award-winning, 27-hole golf course and banquet facility.

Members of the Oneida Nation generally believe that people should live in harmony with nature and that their land, properly tended, can sustain their community. In an effort to honor this relationship and to reach their goal of self sufficiency, the tribe has established the Tsyunhehkwa, which means "life sustenance," Agricultural Program on the Oneida Reservation. Production of the crops on this 83-acre (about .34 square km), certified-organic farm is based on cultural traditions that stress the importance of community participation and education about farming for sustenance. To this end, a ceremony is held each season to honor the seed being planted and when the crops are ready for gathering, members participate in a community harvest to celebrate their bounty.

Tsyunhehkwa production is heavily concentrated on white corn, beans, and squash but also includes corn, berries, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. The program also includes a cannery that creates and preserves food, such as salsa, soups, applesauce, flour, bread, jams, and pickles. There is a retail component where these items, and more, are sold to the public, and education is provided to tribal members to help them tend their own gardens and preserve their own crops. Oneida Farms is a separate entity that adds to the food production and retail market by raising cattle, American bison, and free-range poultry.

The Oneida Reservation is the site of many community events. Tours are available year-round and include powwow exhibitions, storytelling, and demonstrations of Indian artifacts. Further educational opportunities to learn about the history and culture of the Oneida people are provided by the Oneida Nation Museum. The tribal members also host an annual Christmas celebration, an Indian Summer Festival each fall, and a family carnival in the summer.

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