L. Gordon McLester III is an Oneida tribal historian. He is coeditor of "The Oneida Indian Journey" and "The Oneida Indians in the Age of Allotment"and coauthor of "Chief Daniel Bread and the Oneida Nation of Indians," all with Laurence M. Hauptman. McLester lives in Oneida, Wisconsin.
Laurence M. Hauptman is SUNY Distinguished Professor of History at SUNY New Paltz, where he has taught Native American history since 1971. The author, coauthor, or coeditor of fifteen books on the Iroquois and other Native Americans, Hauptman has testified as an expert witness before Congress, federal courts, and has served as a historical consultant for the Wisconsin Oneidas, the Cayugas, the Mashantucket Pequots, and the Senecas. "The Oneida Indian Journey," which Professor Hauptman coedited with L. Gordon McLester III, won the Wisconsin Historical Society prize for best community history in the year 2000.
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What are the origins of "A Nation within a Nation?" How did the project come together?
Laurence Hauptman: "A Nation Within A Nation: Voices of the Oneidas in Wisconsin" is the fourth book in a series that began over thirty years ago. I met Gordon McLester in 1977 and we have worked together on different historical projects since that time. McLester's focus has been in interviewing hundreds of Oneidas and preserving the information gathered. He has coordinated numerous historical conferences at Oneida and in Milwaukee, bringing academics, Indian and non-Indian, as well as community elders together to talk about the Oneida historical experiences on and off their reservation. My role was largely in locating and using archival records and manuscript collections relating to Wisconsin Oneida history and bringing back this information and sharing it with the Oneida community. With so many misconceptions held about the nature and status of Native American communities, this four-book project was aimed to educate the public. By collecting and publishing community history, the Oneidas saw the importance of using what was collected for curriculum development to teach their own children about the their nation's incredible accomplishments.
WHS Press: What were some of the most surprising or interesting things you learned about the Oneidas in Wisconsin?
LH: I learned two things from this project. First, I learned how determined the Oneidas were and still are in maintaining their Iroquoian ways even though they are now approximately 1100 miles from their original homeland in New York State. Their strength occurred despite facing removal from New York, policies intent on to dividing up their Wisconsin lands or terminating their separate treaty status with the United States, and, until recently extreme levels of poverty. Second, I learned about the key role that Oneidas played in American history from the American Revolution to the present, including their important military contributions as well as their contemporary roles in regional and national Indian policymaking.
WHS Press: How was writing and compiling "A Nation within a Nation" a personal experience? How do you feel connected with the book?
LH: There is a heroic quality to Oneida history. Listening to tribal elders reflect on their experiences in overcoming a multitude of problems, I came to realize that most historians too often treat Native peoples as merely victims and as peoples in decline, not giving Native Americans credit or recognizing their abilities to navigate the system, survive, and succeed. "A Nation Within A Nation" clearly counters this false impression.
WHS Press: This is the final volume in a series about Oneida communities across the United States and Canada. How does the history of the Oneida in Wisconsin compare with the experiences of other communities?
LH: I work with the Six Nations (Mohawk, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras) in New York and Canada and have worked with the Pequots and Wampanoags in southern New England. I have taught Native students in New Mexico and have done field work in Oklahoma. I have never found a Native community more interested in preserving its history and promoting its dissemination than the Wisconsin Oneidas. Since their WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project in the late 1930s where they worked cooperatively with professors from the University of Wisconsin, they have done so much, and McLester is conducting and digitizing hundreds of interviews.
WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from "A Nation within a Nation?"
LH: Oneidas are a vibrant, adaptive community of Native Americans. On one hand, they are a separate people and don't see themselves as a minority, but as their own nation based on treaties with the United States. They have maintained their way of life, their inherent sovereignty, one not given to them by Washington, D.C., Albany, or Madison officials, but by the Creator. At the same time, they are a nation within a nation part of the greater mosaic of cultures that make up the United States, contributing much to the American past and present.