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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 8, 2003 - Issue 82


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Oneidas' History Unearthed

by JOLENE WALTERS, Oneida Dispatch Staff Writer
credits: Dispatch Staff Photo by John Haeger Trevor Findley, an Oneida Nation member, sifts soil for artifacts during a dig with Colgate University students on Aug. 5, 2002.

February 22, 2003

Dispatch Staff Photo by John Haeger Trevor Findley, an Oneida Nation member, sifts soil for artifacts during a dig with Colgate University students on Aug. 5, 2002."It's like reclaiming my past," says Oneida Nation Bear Clan member Brian Patterson of an archaeological held in partnership with Colgate University to uncover traces of the Oneida Indians' past.

"It's something tangible for our people," he says, "It is representative of both the past and present."

Jordan Kerber, associate professor of anthropology at Colgate University has been working with high school students alongside Colgate University students to excavate sites known to have been inhabited by Oneida Indians.

Since 1995, Kerber has held summer workshops as well as college courses during the regular school year to excavate archeological sites on the Oneida Nation land.

In the early digs, artifacts dating as far back as 6,000 years ago were recovered.

Kerber presented the findings of the latest excavation project Tuesday at the Shako:wi Cultural Center on Route 46.

Kerber says that every summer for two weeks, Oneida Indian youths who apply for the program work hands-on to map and excavate archeological sites.

Kerber says that through the partnership, three main goals are achieved. Education is shared between Colgate and the Oneida Nation, research skills are developed and site management skills are honed.

"They actually recover objects used by their ancestors," Kerber says.

Last summer and fall, work was done on a site located on Oneida Nation Territory in the town of Stockbridge. The site was originally excavated by some amateur archaeologists in the 1970's. At that time, post holes of a longhouse were located.

There, students again found the traces of where a longhouse approximately 90 feet long once stood. Kerber speculates that it may have housed at least 100 Oneidas.

Carbon dating of wood fragments taken from the post holes indicate the longhouse stood there some time between 1595 and 1625.

Kerber says Indians would often settle in one area for about 15 to 20 years until the natural resources in the area were depleted and then they would "pick up and move."

Since last summer, the students unearthed about 2,000 artifacts that include iron axes, knives, and harpoons. Kerber says carbon dating of a few objects indicate they were fashioned between 1490 and 1690.

Bits of corn and beans were recovered from an ancient refuse pit. Carbon dating showed the corn to be between 350 and 400 years old. "The third sister was missing," Kerber said, referring to squash. In Iroquois tradition, "the three sisters" are used in reference to corn, beans and squash.

Kerber adds that no human remains have been found during the excavations since 1995. If any were found, he says that would stop and Oneida Nation officials would be alerted. Proper burial would ensue. Patterson says that many Oneidas would say "leave them alone."

Randy Phillips, a sixth grade teacher at Willard F. Prior Elementary School, worked alongside the youths during the summer workshop. This year, three Oneida Indian youths participated, he says. Other years, as many as 12 youths have worked on a site.

"These kids had hands-on discovery," Phillips says, "They had a connection to history."

Phillips explains that the summer workshop is actually a paid adventure.

Kerber says that this summer and into next fall, he would like to continue work on the same site. The Oneida Nation owns other sites in area communities like Sherrill, Verona Beach and Munnsville.

"I would like to look for another longhouse on the site," Kerber says.

Kerber says that every year a report on the findings of the digs and is archived at area libraries as well as the Shako:wi cultural center.

"The more people know about Oneida, the more they will respect us," Patterson says.

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