"We are Oneida yet": Discourse in the Oneida land claim
Ackley, Kristina Lyn
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Land claim movements make an important contribution to how Oneidas construct their identities. The idea of an Oneida community is defined and imagined in multiple ways--as physical, political, social, cultural, and spiritual spaces. Paradoxically, for the Oneida the idea of community has been concurrently based on mobility as well as on a steadfast belief in an aboriginal fixed place. The collective history of activism that is based on securing Oneida title to the aboriginal territory is based on family forces as well as a nascent Oneida nationalism. There is a belief in the coherence and possibility of relationships between the three Oneida communities existing as one nation. While it is important not to romanticize this and thereby envision that the Oneida are culturally, spiritually, and politically united, one should not completely discount the centrality of the idea of a unified Oneida Nation. On a basic level, there does exist a sense of nationhood among the communities, a sense of connection and kinship between Oneidas when they meet individually, even if it is sometimes absent in public discourse or if official relations between the communities are adversarial. A number of core principles that shape the framework in which the Oneida land rights have been argued. Consistently, the goal of a reconstituted unified Oneida Nation in the homelands is advocated. The act of defining oneself in terms of a land base that many Oneidas no longer have access to is a complex process in which geography plays a central role. Location also affects the ways the Oneida situate themselves when they argue for the return of land. A sense of traditionalism also frames the debate. Throughout the process, the land claim is placed within a unique sense of the past that is informed by the reality of the present. Thus the land claim exists not only as a focal point of conflict, but also as a nexus of hope--with dreams of unity and the strengthening of the sovereignty envisioned. The land claim is a way to remain "Oneida yet."