The Sovereign Oneida Nation of Wisconsin
Cultural Heritage Department
The Sovereign Oneida Nation of Wisconsin’s Cultural Heritage Department is an extension of the Oneida Nation tribal government. The department collects Oneida traditions, artifacts, language, customs, and history—and not just through the static papers or objects of the tribe’s past. Oneida’s Cultural Heritage Department is a very important tribal institution and is atypical to traditional (or western) collecting institutions. They offer cultural wellness and healing as well as active language revitalization—on top of records management and museum collections. Their mission reflects what is valuable to their unique ways of knowledge.
Our mission is to preserve, protect, maintain, and interpret the Oneida traditions, artifacts, language, customs, and history in a manner that shall promote the dignity and respect of the Oneida people and culture.
The Wisconsin Oneida Nation Tribal Reservation is located just west of Green Bay, straddles both Brown and Outagamie Counties. As one of the five founding members of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Oneida originated in New York, but were forced to cede territory in the early 19th century by the U.S. Government and relocated to Wisconsin. The Cultural Heritage Department is comprised of 5 branches that maintain and preserve the rich history and culture of the Oneida People—Culture, History, Language Revitalization, the Oneida Nation Museum, and the Oneida Community Library.
The History Department, which I had the opportunity to visit this weekend, is home of the tribal archives which includes both the tribes records management and tribal history and genealogy. The Tribal Historian, Loretta Metoxen, has vast and impressive knowledge and memory of tribal history and her community. Loretta serves as an example of the different ways of preserving and sharing knowledge that indigenous culture keepers practice. The Tribal Libraries Archives and Museums Project here at SLIS is working on describing numerous reels of film outtakes of Oneida people produced in the 70’s. We met with Loretta in hopes that should provide more information about the people featured in the film—I was floored with the amount of information she could recall about almost everyone in the film. It was truly amazing.
The archival collections of the Oneida Nation are numerous and spread out across the cultural heritage department. This weekend we were able to meet with Reggie Doxtater, the tribal archivist. Reggie works with numerous collections in records management that include tribal government records, oral transcriptions, photographs, maps, film footage and audiotapes. The Oneida Nation Museum also houses a photograph archive in its lower level. Shawn, a cultural interpreter for the museum, showed us his process for digitizing and describing photographs in PastPerfect. The collections at both the museum and records management are open to the public and attract researchers from around the country, but they mostly serve those in the community—providing a closer look at their heritage and cultural identity as Oneida people.
The Oneida Community Library is another arm of the Cultural Heritage Department. During our tour of the Oneida Reservation given by Eliza Skenandore, the multi-media specialist in the History Department, we were able to stop into the Oneida Community Library, which had an impressive collection of literature on the Oneida and Iroquois Nations, rare books on the Oneida people, a fairly comprehensive general library collection, and rich programming for both children and adults.
While we were visiting with Reggie he proposed another potential TLAM project to our group. Records Management has over 400 audio (and potentially video) tapes in their collection. These tapes hold recordings from Oneida Business Committee meeting from the early 1990’s—a rich time in tribal history, which includes the introduction of tribal gaming, increased tribal income, and expansion. Cultural Heritage has no way to play or convert these tapes into digital files. TLAM would like to come up with a project plan and workflow schedule for the for the tapes–If anyone is interested in helping with this project, or with the Oneida film project please feel free to visit the March TLAM meeting, or get in touch sooner!