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The Oneida Nation of New York

The Oneida, or Onyota'a ka are one of the original five members of the Iroquois League, being situated in what today is upper New York State. The traditional lands of the Oneida were the second most easterly of the Iroquois, situated between the easternmost Mohawk and the Onondaga (ENAT, 168). Their name means either, the "People of the Boulder" or "People of the Standing Stone". This refers to a significant rock formation found within the lands of the Oneida.

Even in the glory days of the Iroquois League, long before there was ever United States, the symbol of the Oneida people was a great tree (ibid, 169). This continues right up to today. The tree is a white pine; this tree was selected by Deganawada, the Peacemaker ("The Oneida Indian Nation Seal", undated) because its needles stay green forever. The Peacemaker had a vision of the tribes coming together in peace under a "great tree". It is Deganawada and Hiawatha who are credited with uniting the Iroquois nations in the 16th century (ENAT, 104). The Peacemaker, according to legend, instructed the nations of the Iroquois to "bury their weapons of war under the sacred roots, and never unearth them again to use on each other" ("The Oneida Indian Nation Seal").

The seal of the Oneida Nation is red, appearing frequently as a reddish-orange or even orange. The red color recalls the blood spilled before the union of the five original nal nations. The trunk of the white pine is white and ends with four roots, the white represents purity while the four roots spread to the four directions of Mother Earth.

It bears the great tree of the Oneida in the center and pictured upon it are three clan totems, a wolf, bear and turtle. The tree is topped by an eagle with wings outstretched. The eagle is the national bird of the United States and the Iroquois. Its placement symbolizes that it is watching out for the Oneida and will scream out a warning of any impending danger. All totems appear in black. The clan totems are sheltered by the protection of the "Great Tree".

The green of the tree symbolizes that the Oneida's way of life, their government and the Oneida People shall prosper so long as they adhere to the Great Law (ibid.) that was brought to the Oneida and the other Iroquois nations by the Peacemaker from the Creator.


Below the eagle is "Hiawatha's Belt" (AIDD, plate 18), the wampum symbol of the creation of the Iroquois League around 1570. It appears in the original colors of the belt - white bearing the tree and links in bluish-purple or purple. The color purple represents peace ("The Oneida Indian Nation Seal", undated) These reflect the natural coloring of the shells from which the original "Hiawatha's Belt" of wampum was constructed.

By 1987 the Oneida were reduced to sharing a reservation with the Onondaga and having a small 32 acre unrecognized reservation for themselves. Despite the reduction of the Oneida to just 32 acres, they remain proud of their long history of cooperation with the United States. Since 1988, with the passage of the Native American Gaming Act, the Oneida and their Turning Stone Casino, which opened in 1993 (New York Times, Feb. 16, 1996, B6), have managed to repurchase some 3,500 acres. This is still a far cry from the nearly 270,000 acres they ruled in the 1700s, but a major leap forward for the Oneida.

The Oneida and the sixth member of the Iroquois League, the Tuscarora who joined in 1722, were the only members to side with the United States in its fight for independence.

Today the Oneida continue to seek the restoration of lost lands and an improving way of life for their kinsmen. As part of their self awareness, the Oneida people use their seal on a white flag to represent themselves. This flag, manufactured by Americana Flag, while used by the Oneida nation has, as far as can be determined, has never been formally adopted by the Oneida government.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603