The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin is a federally recognized tribe of Oneida people, with a reservation located in parts of two counties on the west side of the Green Baymetropolitan area. The reservation was established by treaty in 1838, and was allotted to individual New York Oneida tribal members as part of an agreement with the U.S. government. The land was individually owned until the tribe was formed under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
Under the Dawes Act, the land was allotted in 1892 to individual households. The nation kept control of most of the land until sales were allowed in the early 20th century, when members were often tricked out of their property. They used the land for farming and harvesting timber. The tribe now controls about 22% of their former reservation and are working to reacquire the rest.
In 1988 the nation established the state’s first modern lottery, known as Big Green. Since the late 20th century, the nation developed the gaming Ashwaubenon Casino on its property, which is generating revenue for economic development and welfare. Of the more than 21,000 members, roughly half live on the reservation.
The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin are descendants of an indigenous Iroquoian-speaking nation that arose in present-day central-western New York. They became one of the original Five Nations of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy. Although many Oneida of what was called the Christian Party had allied with the rebels during the American Revolutionary War, afterward the tribe was under pressure to cede lands in New York to the new federal government. Their territory was encroached on by European-American settlers and the people suffered from harassment by settlers who did not distinguish between former allies and enemies (four of the six Iroquois nations had been allied with the British). Many began to relocate from New York in the 1820s and 1830s to Wisconsin, where they were offered land.
By a treaty in 1838, the Oneida accepted a reservation, and chief Patrick James Brault negotiated to ensure that the land was to be held communally by the tribe. Oneida activists from Wisconsin and New York such as Laura Cornelius Kellogg (1880-1947) would make continual efforts to uphold Indian land claims.
During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration organized the Federal Writers Project, which produced state guides and also helped preserve much of Oneida culture. Its Oneida Language and Folklore Project gathered hundreds of stories and material about their culture.
In the period between World War II and The Sixties the US government followed a policy of Indian Termination for its Native citizens. In a series of laws, attempting to mainstream tribal people into the greater society, the government strove to end the U.S. government’s recognition of tribal sovereignty, eliminate trusteeship over Indian reservations, and implement state law applicability to native persons. In general the laws were expected to create taxpaying citizens, subject to state and federal taxes as well as laws, from which Native people had previously been exempt.
On 13 August 1946 the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946, Pub. L. No. 79-726, ch. 959, was passed. Its purpose was to settle for all time any outstanding grievances or claims the tribes might have against the U.S. for treaty breaches, unauthorized taking of land, dishonorable or unfair dealings, or inadequate compensation. Claims had to be filed within a five-year period, and most of the 370 complaints that were submitted were filed at the approach of the 5-year deadline in August, 1951.
On 1 August 1953, United States Congress issued a formal statement, House Concurrent Resolution 108, which was the formal policy presentation announcing the official federal policy of Indian termination. The resolution called for the “immediate termination of the Flathead, Klamath, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of California, New York, Florida, and Texas.” All federal aid, services, and protection offered to Native people were to cease, and the federal trust relationship and management of reservations would end. Individual members of terminated tribes were to become full United States citizens with all the rights, benefits and responsibilities of any other United States citizen. The resolution also called for the Interior Department to quickly identify other tribes who would be ready for termination in the near future.
A 21 January 1954 memo by the Department of the Interior advised that a bill for termination was being prepared including “about 3,600 members of the Oneida Tribe residing in Wisconsin. Another memo of the Department of the Interior memo entitled Indian Claims Commission Awards Over $38.5 Million to Indian Tribes in 1964, states that the Emigrant Indians of New York are “(now known as the Oneidas, Stockbridge-Munsee, and Brotherton Indians of Wisconsin)”.
In an effort to fight termination and force the government into recognizing their outstanding land claims from New York, the three tribes began filing litigation in the 1950s. As a result of a claim filed with the Indian Claims Commission, the group was awarded a settlement of $1,313,472.65 on August 11, 1964. To distribute the funds, Congress passed Public Law 90-93; 81 Stat. 229; Emigrant New York Indians of Wisconsin Judgment Act and prepared separate rolls of persons in each of the three groups to determine which tribal members had at least one-quarter “Emigrant New York Indian blood.” It further directed tribal governing bodies of the Oneidas and Stockbridge-Munsee to apply to the Secretary of the Interior for approval of fund distributions, thereby ending termination efforts for these tribes. With regard to the Brothertown Indians, however, though the law did not specifically state they were terminated, it authorized all payments to be made directly to each enrollee with special provisions for minors to be handled by the Secretary, though the payments were not subject to state of federal taxes.