Oneida wasn’t a trip so much as an experience. An experience that presented engaging tours galore, fascinating community members and consummate professionals–librarians, archivists, curators, bus-drivers, tour guides–that ran the gamut of the Oneida nation of Green Bay. In short, there wasn’t one among us who didn’t come away feeling they had been given something–what that was was different for all of us. More important, I think, the trip imbued us with a sense of WHO the Oneida were and continue to be: gracious, warm, and utterly dedicated to preserving and adapting their culture and community in the 21st century.
The day was a whirlwind. So, in an attempt to save some digital space, I will recount some highlights.
Kirby Metoxin acted as guide, entertainer, and all-around “Mr. Oneida” for the duration of our day. His insights into the history, geography, genealogy, and pulse of the community were invaluable as we went from the Library, the Norbert Hill Community Center, the Cultural Heritage Division, the Museum, and lunch at Jimmy Seas. It struck me that Kirby has a particular talent for tying community matters at-large (ancestry) to informative, entertaining stories people (including, thankfully, outsiders like myself) can relate to. For instance, Kirby told us that the young man along for our tour (from Milwaukee), who had never met his father, was Oneida. In Kirby’s estimation, the young man’s father was most likely a cousin of his. (Keith’s light eyes, like Kirby’s, was a pretty strong substantiation of this, too.) I enjoyed the telling, but it wasn’t until later that I realized I cared about the story because who can’t identify with issues of identity and family–they’re universal. And Kirby tapped into this all day and should be commended for it.
The community library was a treat for librarians and would-be’s alike. They run their library efficiently–from their use of shelf space to their community programs. The best compliment I can give it is that if I were kid in that community, I would want to go there. The director, Ron Williams (?), emphasized it was the quality of the people working there that made the library what it is. Indeed.
Brandon Stevens, the young counsel member, impressed on me that Oneida looks to be in good hands down the road. I thought it remarkable that Obama inspired him not to wait for change or improvement in his community–but to challenge himself to make that change come from within himself and channel it into Oneida. (Stevens’ talk was made all the more impressive by his backdrop– the 30′ turtle mural.)
Tom Webster, our bus-driver for the day, was the unexpected but awesome X-factor of the day–to the extent that he was easily my favorite person at Oneida. Tom recently represented the Oneida Nation as an elder dancer at President Obama’s Inauguration. With prideful, welled-up eyes Tom spoke about what a prestigious honorit was for his family and the Nation to have the privilege to pay their respects and get the recognition to do so. Also, as an elder dancer, it is often his duty to ensure that if an eagle feather–considered sacred– falls off a dancer in competition (this is also considered an embarrassment to the dancer and his/her family), he makes the decision to send it back with the dancer to ensure it is used to honor a fallen soldier from the dancer’s community (Tom checks to make sure); or, if the dancer is disrespectful, keep the feather to honor someone of his choice.
As a vet, he also spoke about the amount of enthusiasm he now receives going to do 1/2 times at sporting events from fellow vets and community members. This wasn’t always the case, as Tom pointed out that he and some others were booed years ago by crowd-members at certain events in the Green Bay area. Tom followed this with the statement that, “We’ve come along away.” I took this to mean that while Oneida’s relations with other communities are far from perfect, they’re better than in year’s past. On a final note, I was just struck by the sheer honesty and pride of this man and was left wanting to talk more life with him over a cold one at his local dive, Beaver’s.