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Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Oneidas for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Oneida language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Oneida pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.
Iroquois wampum belt
|Yes, the Oneida tribe was one of the original members of the Iroquois Confederacy, or Kanonsionni in their own language ("league of clans.") The other member nations were the Mohawk, the Seneca, the Cayuga, and the Onondaga. Later a sixth tribe, the Tuscarora, joined the confederacy. Today these long-term allies refer to themselves as the Haudenosaunee ("people of the longhouse") or Six Nations.|
Flags of Oneida bands
The Oneida nation had a tribal council chosen by the Oneida clan mothers (matriarchs, or female leaders.)
But the Oneidas were also subject to the decisions made by the Iroquois Great Council.
Nine Oneida chiefs represented their tribe's interests in the Iroquois Council.
This is similar to American states which each have their own government, but are all subject to the US government.
In fact, the Iroquois Confederacy was one of the examples of representative democracy used as a model by America's founding fathers.
Like other Native Americans in the United States, the Oneida Indians live on reservations today. A reservation is land that belongs to an Indian tribe and is under their control. There are two Oneida tribes: one in New York and one in Wisconsin. Each of these tribes is governed by a council that is elected by its citizens. Other Oneida people live on the Six Nations Reserve, which they share with members of the other Iroquois nations.
|They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Oneida children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have cornhusk dolls, toys, and games, such as one game where kids tried to throw a dart through a moving hoop. Lacrosse was a popular sport among Iroquois boys as it was among adult men. Like many Native Americans, Oneida mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboard carriers on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted.|
Iroquois longhouse sketch
|The Oneida people lived in villages of longhouses, which were large wood-frame buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. Each longhouse was up to a hundred feet long, and housed an entire clan (as many as 60 people.) Here are some pictures of Native American longhouses like the ones Oneida Indians used. Today, longhouses are only used for ceremonial purposes. The Oneidas live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.|
Oneida men wore breechcloths with leggings. Oneida women wore wraparound skirts with shorter leggings.
Men did not originally wear shirts in Oneida culture, but women often wore a poncho-like tunic called an
Oneida Indians usually wore moccasins on their feet.
In colonial times, the Oneidas adapted European costume like cloth shirts and blouses, decorating
them with beadwork and ribbon applique. Here is a webpage
about traditional Iroquois dress, and some photographs
and links about American Indian clothes in general.
The Oneidas didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Oneida men wore traditional Iroquois headdresses, which are feathered caps with a different insignia for each tribe. (The Oneida headdress has two eagle feathers standing straight and one trailing behind.) Oneida women sometimes wore special beaded tiaras. In times of war, Oneida men often shaved their heads except for a scalplock or a crest down the center of their head--the style known as a roach or a "Mohawk." Sometimes they would augment this hairstyle with splayed feathers or artificial roaches made of brightly dyed porcupine and deer hair. Here are some pictures of these different kinds of Indian headwear. Oneida women only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Otherwise they wore it long and loose or plaited into a long braid. Oneida men sometimes decorated their faces and bodies with tribal tattoo art, but Oneida women generally didn't paint or tattoo themselves.
Today, some Oneida people still wear moccasins or a beaded shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.
|Sometimes--the Oneida Indians did use elm-bark or dugout canoes for fishing trips, but they usually preferred to travel by land. Originally the Oneida tribe used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) In wintertime, the Oneidas used laced snowshoes and sleds to travel through the snow.|
|The Oneida Indians were farming people. Oneida women planted crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvested wild berries and herbs. Oneida men hunted for deer and elk and fished in the rivers and the shores of Lake Ontario. Oneida Indian recipes included cornbread, soups, and stews, which they cooked on stone hearths. Here is a website with more information about Native food.|
Oneida hunters used bows and arrows. Oneida fishermen used spears and fishing poles.
In war, Oneida men used their bows and arrows or fought with clubs, spears and shields.
Here is a website with pictures and information about Native American war weapons.
Other important tools used by the Oneidas included stone adzes (hand axes for woodworking), flint knives for skinning animals, and wooden hoes for farming. The Oneidas and other Iroquois were skilled woodworkers, steaming wood so that it could be bent to make curved tools. Some Iroquois artisans still make lacrosse sticks this way today.
|The Oneida and other Iroquois tribes were known for their mask carving, which is considered such a sacred art form that outsiders are still not permitted to view many of these masks. Native American beadwork and the more demanding porcupine quillwork are more common Oneida crafts. The Oneidas also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.|
Iroquois Water Drum
|The two most important Oneida instruments are drums and flutes. Iroquois drums were often filled with water to give them a distinctive sound different from the drums of other tribes. Most Oneida music is very rhythmic and consists mostly of drumming and lively singing. Flutes were used to woo women in the Oneida tribe. A young Oneida man would play beautiful flute music outside his girlfriend's longhouse at night to show her he was thinking about her.|
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