Oneida Land Ethics and Conservation Efforts in Wisconsin

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Oneida Presence in Wisconsin

The Oneida tribes make up one of the six tribes in the Six League of Nations of the Iroquois. They originally lived on lands in present day New York state and for a while had treaties maintaining their presence in New York State. However through various treaties, and the constant push of the developing United States of America they, much like many other Native tribes, were moved from their homelands. [1]

In the 1820s the Oneida, after having much of their land holdings lost in New York States, bought five million acres in Wisconsin from the Menominee and Winnebago tribes already living there. This done so that the Oneida tribe had a space and lands to preserve their status as an independently governed, sovereign tribal nation. The 1838 treaty between the government of the United States of America and the Oneida nation then solidified the boundaries of the Oneida nation reservation in Wisconsin. The lands within these boundaries total 65,430 acres, although much of it was lost due to the Dawes Act of 1887, the Oneida nations boundaries were never technically dissolved or reformed by either party in the aforementioned treaty. As such despite not owning all the land within these boundaries the Oneida hold firm to the boundaries that were originally drawn, and are in the process of buying back as much of that land as is possible.[2]

As of 1936 the Oneida nation in Wisconsin has formed its own constitution, by which tribal rights, land and laws are outlined. [3]

One of the current missions of the Oneida in Wisconsin, as stated on their website, is to "to reestablish tribal jurisdiction of the lands within the 1838 Oneida Indian Reservation boundaries of Wisconsin and to preserve, maintain and distribute such lands according to the needs of our General Tribal Council." [4] As such one way in which they are doing this is via their Acquisition plan, to buy back plots of lands lost in large parts due to the Dawes Act of 1887. The Oneida nation describes this plan, and its other efforts as part of their "Seventh Generation Vision" to maintain their cultural beliefs and community strength. [5]


Conservation, in regards to the land and wildlife, refers to the supervision of natural resources, lands and animals. The idea behind this is not so much to protect these lands from begin touched whatsoever, but to ensure that these resources are not being overused or deteriorated.

Preservation refers to the maintenance of natural resources, lands and animals as they are, a tactic carried out usually by setting them aside from general use. As the National Park Service states, "Put simply conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use." [6]

The modern government of Oneida Nation in Wisconsin has created the Oneida Nation Conservation Department to care for and maintain their lands and various uses of natural resources.Alongside this the Oneida nation is also currently setting up the "TERP" program. TERP stands for the Tribal Environmental Response Program, which is set up as a resource to deal with hazardous and.or regulated materials released on their lands in non-emergency situations. A goal of this, as written by the Oneida people is not only to oversee, regulated and tend to various sites contaminated or touched by these materials, but to also create a public record of the things encountered, and management of said locations. [7]


The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin describes the division of its land into three parts as following: 23,122 acres are tribally owned, 12,208 acres are considered fee land, 10,904 acres are considered tribal trust land.

Fee land is a term used to describe land of which the tribe has acquired the legal title to under specific statutory authority. Tribal Trust land refers to land that is legally owned by the government but that, "beneficial interest remains with the tribe." [8]

Reclaiming Land

The Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 was in huge part, why much of the Oneida reservation was originally lost. The act itself broke up ownership of the Oneida reservation into individual plots for the Native Americans living there. The motivation behind this was to assimilate the populace to the "American" standard of individual land ownership, with the hope from many, that the Native Americans, once having their own land would begin to farm and assimilated more completely in western society, abandoning their traditional ways of life permanently. In the end, the division of the Oneida reservation into individual parts had none of these effect, rather many of the Oneida people lost their land due to being unfamiliar with the concept of land ownership by western standards, as well as being unfamiliar with the land taxes imposed. Failure to pay these land taxes meant that their ownership of the land was removed and sold to other parties, and in the end the Oneida community's lands were substantially reduced. [9] This had lead to the Oneida people's efforts to reacquire the lands within their reservation boundaries.


In the present day, the Oneida people have created an Acquisition Plan to reclaim parts of its land lost due to the Dawes Act of 1887. On September 18th 2010 this plan was certified and put into motion. It hopes to regain the ownership of the acres lost by 2033, as the act sets aside funds every fiscal year for the process.[10] As of 2013 the Oneida Nation owns 25,042 acres or 39 percent of its original land holdings. [11]

Land Service Agreement

Amidst their efforts to reclaim land that often overlap with modern city and town lines. One such case of this is between the city of Green Bay and the Oneida Nation. As the Oneida move to purchase more and more parcel of lands, most of which they hope to convert to land trusts. [12] However, the land that the tribe moves to buy is also land that they usually petition to have put into land trusts with the federal government, which in the end, cause a problem with the government of the city of Green Bay. Any land that becomes trust land is no longer taxable, as such the city of Green Bay feared loosing tax revenue on the land of the city that overlapped with the boundaries of the Oneida Reservation. Until recently this was taken care of by a 2009 Service Agreement between the two governments. The Service Agreement outlined mutual responsibilities, rights, and established the requirements and provisions for the Oneida Nation to petition any shared lands to become trust lands. The Service Agreement was also a matter of negotiation between the two governments, in which the Oneida Nation would have paid annual fees to maintain the public services of the City of Green Bay on the overlapping lands. [13]

However, in April 2016 the Service Agreement was ended due to opposition towards the Oneida Nation and their land acquisition mission, because the Oneida Nation intend to put the land it requires into nontaxable Land Trusts, it is estimated that the City of Green Bay would lose $840 million dollars from its tax revenue, though this number does not factor in the $300,000 some dollars that the Oneida Nation would pay Annually in Service fees. Due to the free of losing such a substantial amount of money the 15 year service agreement has ended early, though the City of Green Bay remains open to a negotiation of a new Service Agreement. [14]


  1. Patty Loew, 2013. Indian Nations of Wisconsin : Histories of Endurance and Renewal (2). Madison, US: Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Accessed April 28, 2016. ProQuest ebrary, 125-128.
  2. Oneida Nation of Wisconsin
  3. Constitution and By-laws for the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
  4. About Land Management. Oneida Nation Webpage.
  5. Mission Statement Division of Land Management. "About Land Management" Oneida Nation Webpage
  6. United States. National Park Service. "Conservation vs. Preservation and the National Park Service." National Parks Service. Accessed May 11, 2016.
  8. "Tribal and Indian Land." Tricla Energy and Enviornmental Information. Accessed May 12, 2016.
  9. An Act to Provide for the Allotment of Lands in Severalty to Indians on the Various Reservations (General Allotment Act or Dawes Act), Statutes at Large 24, 388-91, NADP Document A1887.
  10. "2033 Land acquisition Plan" GTC Resolution 9-18-10 Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
  11. Adam Rodewald, "Power Struggle over Tribal Land Hits Green Bay." Press Gazette Media. April 2015. Accessed May 11, 2016.
  12. Adam Rodewald, "Power Struggle over Tribal Land Hits Green Bay."
  13. Service Agreement Between the Oneida Tribe of Indians Of Wisconsin and the City of Green Bay.
  14. Adam Rodewald. "Oneida to Green Bay: Dispute Disheartening." Press Gazette Media. April, 2016. Accessed May 11, 2016.

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