By Doug George-Kanentiio, Mohawk Akwasanse
The Oneidas have been displaced from the largest section of their 3.7 million-acre homelands; an area which went from the St. Lawrence River to the Susquehanna, from Oneida Lake to the West Canada Creek in current Herkimer, NY.
New York State, in particular, was the most culpable land thief, effectively attaching and selling vast areas of the Oneida lands in defiance of US federal law and with the design to remove the Native completely from the region leaving only their aboriginal place names.
In this scheme, the State was mostly successful. The majority of Oneidas could not sustain the white settlers who threatened violence should the Oneidas seek their physical removal. The internal divisions among the People of the Standing Stone were equally disheartening as factionalism crippled any attempt to act in concert and protect their dwindling territory.
So given the hostility of the intruders, the avarice of New York State and the unwillingness of the federal government to abide by its own statutes, (including honoring treaties) most of the Oneidas decided to seek refuge by moving to the current Green Bay area in eastern Wisconsin beginning in the 1820s.
Others bought land in western Ontario at a place near Southwold, relocating there in the 1840s. A few families lived at Onondaga and a small group refused to be displaced and held on to their few remaining acres near the village of Sherrill, NY at a place called Marble Hill. They remain there still.
Three generations after the great Oneida displacement, the issue of unresolved land tenure and ownership was fanned into light by Laura Cornelius Kellogg, the most effective Iroquois leader following World War One.
It was Cornelius-Kellogg, an Oneida from Wisconsin, who refused to accept the loss of Oneida lands. She led a decades-long struggle to recover property, hold NY accountable for its thievery, reinstall traditional governments and forcibly exercise aboriginal rights. She was the first Iroquois citizen to travel abroad using her own national passport to lobby at the League of Nations to have the US and Britain abide by their agreements with the Iroquois Confederacy.
Ms. Cornelius Kellogg was instrumental in winning two US Supreme Court decisions which would define the coming decades of land-based litigation: US v. Boylan, 265 f.165 (1920) and McCandless v. US, 25 F.2d 71 (1928) in which the attachment of Oneida land in Madison County, NY was held in breach of federal law and that the Iroquois had the right to enter, work and travel in the US without qualification as to where they were born.