The Oneida Nation Museum opened in 1979, starting out with a small collection that was gathered by community members. In the mid-nineties, the collection expanded vastly when they amassed a large portion of the Turtle Museum Collection from New York. The Oneida Nation Museum’s mission statement is that the “museum is to provide accurate information about the Oneida and Iroquois culture, history, and nationhood. This is accomplished by developing, preserving, and expanding resources and collections, and by providing exhibits and other educational programming. The Museum also displays and promotes Iroquois artwork. The Oneida Nation Museum shall provide a unique and enlightening experience that can be interpreted to all ages for the next seven generations.”
The Oneida Nation traditionally was not a part of Wisconsin but rather New York, which might make one wonder why the Oneida Nation would have their museum in Wisconsin. Well prior to the American Revolution, the Oneida Nation lived on vast amounts of land within the Northeast of the United States. Their villages included multifamily, of matrilineal descent, longhouses and plenty of fields for various crops like corn, beans, and squash. Daily life included women working and tending to the fields while men would hunt, fish, and trap animals. However, all of this changed from the impact of colonialism.
After dealing with various hardships and being forced into picking sides, the Oneida fought with the Patriots in the American Revolution. Once the war was over the Oneida warriors found their villages pillaged and destroyed and their people scattered. Due to their part in the war, the new U.S. Government guaranteed the territorial integrity of almost 6 million acres of Oneida land within the state we now call New York. This did not last long as the state of New York created various situations to remove the Oneida and other Iroquois from their lands. Eventually giving in to the intense pressure from New York, the Oneida moved westward and negotiated with the Winnebago and Menominee for fertile land on the Great Lakes.
In 1822, the Oneida purchased a usufructuary right to millions of acres of land in a territory that would later become the state of Wisconsin. The first movement of the Oneida from New York to Wisconsin was led by Eleazer Williams, an Episcopal minister who later claimed to be the lost Dauphin of France, and Chief Daniel Bread. Official boundaries for the reservation were established in 1838, however, these boundaries continued to change with the Dawes Act which allocated land to individuals. By 1929 a majority of the land was once again taken from the Oneida, only a few hundred acres remaining. Thankfully, in 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act decreased federal control of Indian affairs and increased self-government and responsibility. Today the Oneida reservation is located in the Brown and Outagamie counties and totals over 65,000 acres. The tribe has strengthened and preserves its sovereignty by exercising their inherent rights over their lands and their people.
While the Oneida Nation was not traditionally a part of Wisconsin, their Nation and the state of Wisconsin are a part of each other’s histories. Wisconsin became their home in the early 1800s and has been since. The Oneida Nation Museum preserves and educates not only on the Oneida culture and values but also their history and move from New York. It’s a place for people, both Native and Non-Native, to learn and understand the Oneida, their values, and past.
The museum was started with a small collection gathered by community members and has since grown vastly having taken in a large collection from the Turtle Museum of New York. The museum has various exhibits such as The Creation Story, Great Law of Peace, Haudenosaunee Clans, Oneidas In the War, Removal and Resettlement, and much more. This wonderful place provides, as the Oneida Nations website states, “unique and enlightening experience that can be interpreted to all ages for the next seven generations.”1