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"Tame Indians"

The Church Magazine
     VOL. 4     APRIL, 1877     NO. 2.

THE ONEIDA INDIANS

GREEN BAY, WIS., DIOCESE OF FOND DU LAC.

BY THE RT. REV. J. H. HOBART BROWN; D. D.*



     The Oneidas were formerly one of the most powerful of the famous Six nations. Unlike many other Indian Tribes they do not seem destroyed by contact with civilization and are still quite numerous. A portion of them adhere to the British crown and find a safe refuge in Canada. A part dwell on their old Reservation in Central New York. And another part are gathered in a Reservation near Green Bay in the State of Wisconsin. These last are slowly increasing in number, forming now a Community of about fourteen hundred souls. More than eight hundred of them are baptized members of the Church and about one hundred and fifty are communicants. Bishop Hobart was deeply interested in the welfare of these who first ventured from the soil of their fathers. He was careful that they should not lack the ministrations of the Church, and from his day until two or three years ago, the interest of Church people in the affairs of the Oneidas was unflagging. Lately, however, perhaps from the opportunities rapidly unfolding of doing good to other tribes, the Oneidas have been nearly forgotten. Government aid has been withdrawn from their schools, and Church aid from their missions. Some good men have thought that it is high time that these Oneidas should assume the dignities and responsibilities of American citizenship. Other men, not so good, are eager to swing their axes in the stately forests that shadow the Oneida Reservation, and to run their plow-shares through the rich soil that yields the Indian laborer bread for himself and his children. Both these classes of persons have beset the poor Oneidas with their sophistries and snares, just when (only for a brief period it is to be hoped) they have been deserted by Church and State.

     During this first year of my episcopate I have visited the Mission three times, and have tried to understand the real condition and needs of the people. A brief account of my last visitation will give some notion of the character of the people, and of their present state. Saturday, February 3rd, in the morning, I arrived at Oneida. I had made no appointment for service that day, but found that the people had taken it for granted that the Bishop would be willing and glad to prepare them for the Holy Communion, which they wished to receive in the morning. Before noon Hobart Church was nearly full. The missionary, the Rev. E. A. Goodnough, said the Morning Prayer and Litany in the Oneida tongue, and then I gave the people a minute and full explanation of the qualifications expected by the Church, of those who come to the Lord's Supper. The attention of the congregation seemed fixed and intelligent. Their leading Chief acted as interpreter and entered into the subject with his whole heart. After service the Chiefs and head-men waited to talk with me about the prospects of the mission. The Indians take "no note of time," but I was surprised when I looked at my watch, having sent them away, to find that it was after five o'clock. The next day, Sunday, the Church was full at about eleven o'clock. The service was as usual in the Oneida language. Fifteen persons were confirmed, and the Holy Communion was administered to about one hundred and ten. The same close attention was given to the service and sermon as on Saturday. At the conclusion of the service after three o'clock, every person present came forward to greet the Bishop. Escorted by one of the chiefs, I spent the rest of the day in going about from house to house, and in observing the manner and habits of the people. The next day I devoted to the school. This was opened by using a portion of the Morning Prayer in English, the children responding quite clearly in the Psalter. A little Indian lad acted as organist. I heard the children read in Oneida and in English, and listened to their recitation in Geography. I also examined them in arithmetic, and made them an address which they seemed to understand without interpretation. The general result of my observations and inquiries is the opinion that the Church has not wasted love and money on the Oneidas, but that there has been steady, sure growth among them, of all the elements of Christian character and civilization. These Indians no longer take their food from benches and stools, but from ordinary tables. They have their three meals at regular hours. Table cloths, dishes, knives, forks, spoons, are in common use. Cleanliness in food, apparel and person, is recognized as needful and pleasant. Some of the houses I saw were models of neatness. The houses generally are too small, and the absence of books, papers and pictures makes them seem cheerless, but they are well-warmed and furnished with tables, chairs and beds. Divorces are becoming uncommon. The men no longer think themselves degraded by labor, but willingly take the hard tasks upon themselves. They cut the fire wood, milk the cows and bring the milk into the house, and do a thousand other things of which twenty years ago they would have been ashamed. The farms are generally in good order, fences up, barns in repair, and the fields ploughed for sowing. The people as a whole are more open, truthful and sincere than in former days. They are shy in manner, of course, but the women appear to be cheerful, and the papooses are well cared for, and are as chubby and bright as possible.

     The great obstacle to the spiritual and social improvement of the tribe is the tenacity with which they cling to their own language. It is delightful to hear them speak and sing the praises of God, but if they could be induced to speak, read and write in English, it would not be long before the last shadows of heathenism would be driven from their hearts. Their unwillingness to converse in English makes it almost impossible to ascertain how accurately they grasp the great doctrines of our holy religion, but their daily life shows that their faith must be nearly right. It would help them much if a few devoted men and women could live among them, and instruct them in music and the social arts. The wonder is that so much has been accomplished with the comparatively small personal influence used. The Church shows wonderful faith in the grace and truth of the Gospel, when she sends a missionary, with sometimes only his wife at his side, to change the habits, religion and character of whole tribes.

     The Oneidas need a larger church. Their old one is becoming dilapidated. They have made an excavation, quarried stone and hewn timber, and are now waiting for money to pay for the skilled labor requisite to erect the structure. But more than money for a church, they need money to support the missionary they have, and to add to him, if possible, several competent helpers. The Oneidas and their faithful missionary wait and pray. In His own good time and way the Great Father of all will hear and help them.
 
 

     * Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, Wis.

     [The Indians of this Diocese are entirely under the spiritual jurisdiction of Bishop Brown and are not under the supervision of Bishop Hare of Niobrara. Hence the peculiar significance of this article. It is also interesting to note that the Oneidas, who were Bishop Hobart's especial care, should now be placed in the keeping of his zealous namesake, the writer of this paper. -- ED]
 
 
 


Edited and annotated by Terry & Linda Heller, Coe College
 

Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents
"Tame Indians"