Oneida Nation of Wisconsin

Hot Topics in Tribal Governance: Citizenship + Blood Quantum

Native Nations Institute

As the Director of the Oneida Nation's Trust Enrollment Department, Doxtator used the skills he honed as a financial analyst to examine the current state of the nation's enrollment criteria and illustrate what that meant for the future of the nation. Since Oneida was still relying on Blood Quantum (BQ) to determine enrollment eligibility, the future of the nation's enrollment numbers looked grim. The unfortunate reality was that, if nothing was done to amend the nation's enrollment criteria, it would mean the extinction of the Oneida Nation in just a few generations.

In this presentation during the Native Nations Institute's 2022 Remaking Tribal Constitutions Seminar, Doxtator uses population pyramids and one very compelling animation to explain the issue with BQ as a determinant for enrollment -- a lesson that could any Native nations wrestling with questions about BQ and enrollment.


Resource Type

Doxtator, Keith. "Hot Topics in Tribal Governance: Citizenship + Blood Quantum." September 19, 2023. Presentation. Native Nations Institute.

Transcripts for all videos are available by request. Please email us:

AIS event: An Afternoon with Joanne Shenandoah and Doug George-Kanentiio

University of Arizona

On April 12, 2021, the Department of American Indian Studies and Graduate Interdisciplinary Program presented "An Afternoon with Joanne Shenandoah & Doug George-Kanentiio."

Doug George-Kanentiio (Awkesasne Mohawk) is a Native author, intellectual and journalist. His presentation was on “Raised Fists - Indigenous, Latino, and Black Rights Movements.” Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida) is a GRAMMY and NAMMY award-winning performer. Her presentation was about “Lifegivers, Women's Rights Under Natural Law.”

Resource Type

The Department of American Indian Studies and Graduate Interdisciplinary Program. "An Afternoon with Joanne Shenandoah & Doug George-Kanentiio." University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. Wednesday, April 12, 2021 

Transcript available upon request. Please email:

Sovereign Nations: Giving Visibility

Produced in partnership with TPT-Twin Cities PBS and producer/director Missy Whiteman

Tribal nations have always had formal ways of self-governing. Take a closer look at local Tribes exercising their inherent rights to land, culture, and self-governance in a contemporary context. Produced in partnership with TPT-Twin Cities PBS and producer/director Missy Whiteman. Special thanks to Bradley Harrington, Byron Ninham, Levi Brown, and Peri Pourier.

Resource Type

Native Governance Center. 2018. "Sovereign Nations: Giving Visibility." Produced in partnership with TPT-Twin Cities PBS and producer/director Missy Whiteman. St. Paul, Minnesota. Video. (, accessed November 30, 2023)

Oneida Advocacy Through Investment Holdings


Thirty years ago, most Native nations in the U.S. had few financial resources available for investment. With the passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (Public Law 93-638) in 1975, many tribes began to reclaim the governance of their nations – and with such assertions of self-determination came successful business enterprise development and thriving economies. Today, Native nations exercise their sovereignty and business savvy across a multitude of arenas, including health care, education, justice, and financial investment.

Resource Type

"Oneida Advocacy Through Investment Holdings." Honoring Nations: 2010 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2011. Report.

Oneida Nation Farms


In the 1820s, a portion of the Oneida people of New York moved to Wisconsin, where they took up their accustomed practices as farmers. Over the next hundred years, the Oneida Nation lost nearly all its lands and much of its own agrarian tradition. In 1978, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin established the Oneida Nation Farms, beginning with only 150 acres of land and 25 head of cattle. Today, the operation includes over 8,000 acres of agricultural and conservation lands; 400 cattle; 100 buffalo; and major crops such as soybeans and corn, and diverse produce such as apples, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, snap beans, squash, and pumpkins. Oneida Nation Farms is a successful, profitable enterprise based on sustainable development, environmental stewardship, respect for the value of whole foods, and a healthy diet for Oneida citizens. Founded on the philosophy that the current generation must consider the impact of its actions on the next seven generations, Oneida Nation Farms nourishes the Oneida people in multiple ways.

Resource Type

"Oneida Nation Farms". Honoring Nations: 2005 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2006. Report.


This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Honoring Nations: Pat Cornelius: Oneida Nation Farms

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Manager of the Oneida Nation Farms Pat Cornelius presents an overview of the organization's work to the Honoring Nations Board of Governors in conjunction with the 2005 Honoring Nations Awards.

Resource Type

Cornelius, Pat. "Oneida Nation Farms." Honoring Nations Awards event. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Tulsa, Oklahoma. November 1, 2005. Presentation.

Pat Cornelius:

"Well, good afternoon everyone and to the Board of Governors. Thank you for inviting us. What I heard this morning with the presenters are really impressive.

Just to let the people know here that the Oneida Farm is one of the biggest farms in northeast Wisconsin. Total acres approximately 9,000 acres. We're tilling approximately 4,700 and some acres. Fifteen years ago we started with 300 acres and 30 head of cattle. It was our general tribal council that said to our council that we should go ahead and purchase our land back, so that's what we're doing. They gave the land commission nine million [dollars] every year to repurchase our land base back.

The Oneida Nation Farms: the Native American Agriculture in America Midwest Heartland

Difficulties and obstacles: the many difficulties and obstacles the Native Americans have seen during the past three centuries must be addressed. We were America's first farmers and we were good stewards of the land and many Native Americans lost their homelands and were displaced to unfamiliar areas with little or no resources to make their living at all. While most farmers and ranchers in America flourished, Indians lacked the modern agricultural know-how and until recently could not get capital, technical support in making agriculture work on the reservations. But we have begun to grow through learning and practical application and this is done through the Kellogg Foundation, First Nations [Development] Institute, Intertribal Bison Cooperative, IAC, USDA Technical Assistance, progressive leadership by our Oneida tribal chairman Gerald Danforth.

Two hundred years ago: history is replete with the early agricultural success of the Oneida Tribe. In the 1500s, the Oneida community in New York were visited by traders [who] reported millions of bushels of corn in storage, 500 acres of land in production. In the early 1900s with a diminished land base, the Haudenosaunee Oneida agriculturalists continued to operate self-sufficient homesteads throughout the territory. We raised white corn, beans, squash, fruits, orchards, domesticated animals. Our cellars were lined with home grown and home canned foods and their corn cribs were full of white corn and they sold food and economics and crafts for a living, although some had already joined the labor force. The cultural, agriculture and social diminished of the Haudenosaunee society were intricately interconnected and intertwined. Well, times have changed.

The Oneida Tribe began settling in what would become Wisconsin in the 1820s. The Oneida Tribe had a treaty agreement with the Menominee Nation for eight million acres. The treaty was for the use and occupancy of the land and the land agreement was then reduced to 500,000 acres. The Oneida Treaty of 1838 gave the Oneida Tribe 65,000 acres and under the Dawes Allotment Act the land base dwindled down to 200. In a hundred years we went from that to approximately 100 acres or 200 acres of land. Traditional tribal culture makes no distinction or separation between spiritual worldviews, values and cultural practices. As Euro-American contact progresses, tribal cultures were devastated.

The allotment and assimilation eras promoted by the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 and the boarding school era. The boarding school era took infants and children who were ripped from their mothers' arms and placed them in a school far away from their families and literally beat the Indian out of these youths to assimilate them to take the savage out of them. However, they did not understand the deep-seated nature of our cultures, our values, and many of our Native people at that time literally took their culture and tradition and values to the underground to preserve them and preserve their cultural identity. They would not be broken people.

Land and reacquiring our land base back

For the Oneida Tribe everything today is about land and reacquiring our land base. Today, Mother Earth remains the basis of our life for the Oneida people, giving our people subsistence, healing and identity. It connects the past and the present and drives decisions about the future. The Tribe is trying to buy back its full original reservation in northeast Wisconsin. It has laid legal claim to Native land in New York, in upstate New York, and it continues to invest in agriculture and environmental protection programs. Land also goes back to our ceremonies. Land is important in terms of where our ancestors are buried, where the medicines grow, where the trees grow on our Nation. The Oneida Tribe is in the process of reacquiring the original boundaries and has reacquired 17,800 acres, plans to purchase 1,000 acres a year and will have reacquired 51 percent of the 65,000 acres by the year 2020.

The Oneida Nation Farm was started in 1978 and was known as the Iroquois Farm. It had 150 acres and primarily grew vegetables and had a herd of about 25 head of cattle. The Oneida Tribe in their 1979 comprehensive plan proposed using acquired agricultural land to diversify the economy, provide food for the people and to provide employment for our people. We had a meager beginning. In 1989 the farm operation where I began was 350 acres of land and 35 head of cattle. In 1990, the business committee issued a list of objectives. One of these was for the tribe to produce its own vegetables and meat by the year 2000. [In] 1992, the farm land base tripled in size. In 1993, investments in equipment and upgrades to the livestock feed lots were accomplished. These improvements resulted in a workable and efficient farm operation today. At this time, a vertically integrated Oneida agricultural operation became the focus and study to determine the potential for developing a new cannery facility and would process our own meat and our own crops grown on the Oneida fields and could market, distribute, sell the products to our own citizens and other consumers. In 1994, the farm's land base consisted of 1,981 acres of which 1,429 were suitable for crops. So we fast-forward to the year 2004 and we find that the Oneida Farm and the Oneida Agricultural Center grew significantly and responsibly while managing the says 9,000 acres, and diversifying a sustainable farming operation with nine employees.

Consider the following: the farm currently produces 4,750 acres of cash crops, fields of corn, soy beans, wheat, oats and alfalfa. They are either consumed by the farm livestock or we sell it to our neighbors or to outside buyers. We generated nearly two million in revenues in 1995 by placing 2,000 acres sub-marginally acres into federal conservation programs and then we manage 450-550 a year nearly natural Black Angus beef in our feeding operation. We established a hundred head cow/calf rotational grazing project through the federal and with the assistance of the EQUIP program. So we do rotational grazing and now we have a hundred head of calves as well by their side. We established 115 head of bison with the help of ITBC [Intertribal Bison Cooperative] including fencing, water wells and corrals.

We produce traditional white corn, sweet corn for our tribal members and we have a 30-acre apple orchard and we provide healthy harvest in 2004 with sales to our regional orchards that had a poor production year. The orchard store sells squash, pumpkin, pick your own apples, fresh apples, apple pie filling, apple cider, apple butter, applesauce and we sell beef and buffalo and other Native American products. We began studying the creation expansion of a unique Oneida orchard agricultural market with greater country appeal than the large box stores, established new marketing with billboards -- State of Wisconsin, Something from Wisconsin -- and working with the radio stations and newspaper.

It is important that I work with the Oneida Nation school system to begin teaching agricultural business and agricultural bison programs within the schools. We entered the world of high tech. We do our farming with global positioning, high-tech equipment for our plants, our crops, our fertilizer base, and our production. The Oneida Farm works closely with outside funding sources. We worked with again the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, Kellogg Foundation, First Nations [Development Institute], Native American Social Economic Development Strategies, and all USDA programs. Thank you."

Amy Besaw:

"Questions from the board?"

David Gipp:

"You've got a remarkable amount of diversity just within all of your programs that you operate here and I think you're to be commended for it, really some very historical and cultural work that you're doing within your nation. Agriculture and nutrition are I think two critical issues to many of our tribal nations across the land and I guess one of the key questions I always ask is, how do you look at transferability and how does this kind of model that you use work, how could it work for other tribal nations? And what are some of your key ingredients -- if you were to give that advice to another tribal nation -- about how to apply both agricultural and nutritional issues, because as you know diabetes and all of those kinds of issues are real, real problems for most of our population out there throughout Indian Country?

Pat Cornelius:

"Well, working a farm or agriculture or any business with an intertribal government can be...test your strength and your job. What it needs is you need the backing of your tribal...the business committee that we have back home. We need all the players to be involved to support the project to say that health is important, food is important, food security is important and it has to come from the top down. If they support you, that makes my job easier. And then to address the health issues, I am now contacting our diabetes program and working in the schools. We just got our foot in the door so to speak and I think it's critical that we work with our youth and get them to understand -- not only youth as far as health -- but youth to get them involved in coming out and working in the area of agriculture. I worked with youth for 12 years prior to taking this job. I was a home school coordinator at one time and our youth and elders are just...they're our future. They're the future. And who said that we couldn't do farming? Tribal people can do farming and go back and take it back and do it."

Elsie Meeks:

"I just want to make a really quick comment. I would like to commend the Oneida Tribe for hiring a woman as their farm manager."

Pat Cornelius:

"Well, here's my Chair, here's the tribal chairman Gerry Danforth."

Gerry [Gerald] Danforth:

"If I can just comment briefly. I'm the Chairman for Oneida, just recently elected, but I would remiss extremely in my responsibilities as the tribal leader and from the previous tribal leaders who have saw in their past has the wisdom to see this come to a reality but none of this vision would have ever occurred or come to place today with the form of recognition that this Harvard Project has introduced and it certainly would not have become a reality without the steadfast dedication of this woman standing here today, Pat Cornelius."

Pat Cornelius:

"Thank you. Thank you, Gerry."

Oren Lyons:

"I'd like to ask you, what's been the reaction of your non-Indian neighbors to the development of your farm and also to the buffalo herd?"

Pat Cornelius:

"Well, it started like this, is that when we slowly started...I started with the 300 acres, that's how I started my management position to where it is today and I'd go to these feed programs and these programs. My mother's full-blooded Oneida, my father is full-blooded Polish so I kind of look like the Polish side. So I'd go into these meetings and I'd listen to them because like this around, the Oneidas are farming now and they'd say, 'Now what are those Indians doing?' And they'd want to know what the Indians were doing. And they said, 'Oh, the federal government must have bought them a tractor and a combine.' Well, I let them talk and talk and then I'd go over and I'd say, introduce myself, and I'd say, 'I'm Pat, manager of the Oneida Nation Farms.' Well, either they'd turn so red and walk away or they would sit down and talk to me. It has made a big turnaround in our community that we're now very well-respected as far as doing agriculture and they watch us and even some of the new modern machinery that we get to put soil and residue first in how we operate and manage the soils that one day I bought a piece of machinery and within a month there was three farmers that bought the same piece of machinery once they seen us use it. So they do watch us and it's really turned around to being respectful now."

Oren Lyons:

"Are they buying your produce?"

Pat Cornelius:

"Yes, they did. I just sold, right there the corn off that field and we were 230 bushel to the acre on that field and we were...we sold it to one of the big dairies nearby. The first check came in was $78,000 and the next check was $197,000."

David Gipp:

"So it won't be long before you'll be replacing this Land O'Lakes stuff then, huh?"

Pat Cornelius:

"Yes. Oneida Tribal stuff."

David Gipp:

"Very good. One of the other questions I had is that we understand that the effort that you lead really has led to reacquiring about 27 and a half percent of the former reservation or reservation lands or territory I guess. Is that also a part of your long term idea or plan to reacquire even more acreage that benefits agricultural and the citizens of your nation?"

Pat Cornelius:

"I would say yes because most of the acres, the large acres tracts that we have within our area is coming from dairy farmers that are either elder and they don't want to farm anymore. We don't even have to go out and ask to buy land, they come to us. But the land runs anywhere from $5,000 to $9,000 an acre right now and that's what they're charging and if you want it back, that's what we have to pay. I've been on the land commission for 20 years also. I wear about 10 different hats but I just do my job. I just do my job. I work with youth, work with the elder. Sovereignty, the land is important. When I started with the land commission, we had less than 2,000 acres."

Honoring Nations: Rick Hill: Sovereignty Today

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Former Oneida Nation Business Committee Chairman Rick Hill offers his perspectives on sovereignty today through the lens of the challenges facing his nation and the strategies theyr employing to achieve their nation-building goals. 

Resource Type

Hill, Rick. "Sovereignty Today." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 17, 2009. Presentation.

"Well, good afternoon to you all. I'm glad you're still awake here. This kind of reminds me of the Mo [Morris] Udall statement, 'Everything's been said, but not said by everyone.' So, here we are. I think if you get a copy of this book, it has a great explanation about the Oneida Farms and it's very well written. It's basically my speech, so you guys can read that on your own time and I will do some other things here.

I really enjoyed the humor today. It kind of kept me awake. The teepee creeper story, the other lady that was, the co-mingling thing here, and I say, 'More warriors, more warriors, more warriors.' So I thought that was good -- that we're a dying race of people. And I liked the other thing that our friend, Manley, said about being at Harvard. Indians gathering at Harvard, we should all run. Manley, I enjoyed that, I thought that was good and I'll borrow that. And then when I walked in I seen the commander. I was like, 'who in the hell's the commander? What's this about?' So then I walked through the halls here and I see it's George Washington and he's the commander. And so it made me think about what my elders taught me about the history.

Basically -- and Oren [Lyons] knows this story better than I do -- but they know that Oneidas gave George Washington and the Continental Army -- we were the first allies of George Washington. And a lot of us went to Canada, decided not to be in the war, and others stuck around and were the first allies of George Washington, if you didn't know that. And fed his army at Valley Forge [because] the colonists couldn't afford to give them their little bit of food that they had. So it was a matter of survival. And so the Oneidas brought 500 bushels of corn, as the story goes. And they taught them how to make cornbread and corn soup, [because] those guys were just gobbling it up when they received it and their stomachs swelled up -- they were just looking for something to eat. And so that was the staple that was the turning point in the war. Otherwise, we'd all be speaking French. That would really be the case. But somehow those chapters are left out of our American history, and that whole big chapter about genocide that happens to be missing in the curriculum, [because] actually, it was to start out to wipe us all out, right? That was the whole thing. It went from our people, to the buffalo, to whatever staple we had to build our economies, to feed our people, was to the first issuing of the small pox blanket, was the first form of chemical genocide, right?

That was all strategically done. We started out in the War Department [because] they were trying to kill us all off and figure ways to do that: exterminate us. And then we ended up in the Interior Department -- no coincidence there, right, because it was about the land, and then it's about all the resources. And then the history goes on about the policy. So that's what we're up against, in terms of our communities, when we exercise sovereignty. We were always running against the grain relative to those policies. So I used to do the gaming speech and I always went back to like, we've been reduced to gaming. We owned all this territory and all these resources. They had the weapons -- that was the whole thing. They had superior weaponry. It was our families against military force. And so here we fast forward to gaming and the dollars that gaming gives us for economic development that allow us to do a lot of the things that we can do today. So that's based on demographics and hopefully the other Indian communities and nations will have some form of economic development, less a tax base, to run your governments. So I always like when we can all get together, because it's sharing ideas and sharing resources and getting new ideas to bring home to advance your community and to protect your inherent sovereignty and all that. So that takes a lot of infrastructure to do all that kind of stuff. So I wanted to put that out there.

The other thing that I came here is, I was like, 'Wow, I'm in Boston.' And then I thought about our senator friend Kennedy who just passed on, Ted Kennedy. And several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the Senator. And so we flew here and then we went to a reception where all the other mucky mucks here and we waited and we waited and we waited and we waited. So he worked the whole room and then he finally came over to say hello to us and we were all happy that it was our time. And then he started telling a story about Bobby Kennedy. Their family always wanted to help the less fortunate or the different races of people and they have a legacy of that. And so he just shared the story about how him and Bobby had a conversation one day and he actually asked him to help the Indian folks out. And so I guess some history would speak to that, I don't really know that in detail, but Indian education and health reform and all these other things and he had a hand in it and he had us in mind to pass some of those kind of things. I thought that was kind of an interesting moment for me personally. And then later on to meet his son Patrick, I think that's a good thing. I think Patrick's a solid guy and I feel for the family and all that stuff.

But there's always the Kennedy jokes, right, the Kennedy stuff. Like, a guy will walk into a bar, a regular old guy will walk into a bar and see a woman sitting on a stool and say, 'Why?' Then Ted Kennedy walks into a bar and sees a woman sitting on a stool and he says, 'Why not?' Or it was so quiet in the room you could hear a Kennedy's pants drop. I always like that one, yeah. So we'll save the late show for later. I have to get the mood of the crowd here. Oh, wait one more. I can't escape this. How about, John Kennedy should be in heaven because any man that would share Marilyn Monroe with his brother Bobby should be in heaven. So there, I had to get that off my chest.

There's a legacy there and who's going to take this spot? Who's going to fill this void up on Capitol Hill? So everybody will be vetting for this new senator position, but who's going to lay on the tracks for the Indians? So we have to go and develop and educate. And my buddy Tim Wapato -- he's passed on -- he says, 'When we educate white folks, it's a lifetime commitment. And then it's your kid's lifetime commitment.' And that's what we're up against. [Because] if they don't live next door to Indians or have these disputes with our communities -- these local units of government and county governments and state governments -- they don't have an idea, but yet they're going to vote on major pieces of legislation -- the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act or education act comes up, or you want to resolve your land claims, that kind of stuff. That's all. We need to develop friends and new friends and it's a continuous process.

So I see Oren -- and I think about land claims a lot of times when I see Oren. And the Haudenosaunee had a certain position, we had our position on land claims but yet, there was over 27 million acres of land. And that conversation, after 200 years is still occurring. So in terms of exercising sovereignty we're still in that conversation. Who knows how it's going to come out, but yet that's still pending after 200 years. So for us to have the staying power to stay in these conversations is important as we develop our communities and our educational systems, and teaching about sovereignty and the importance of inherent sovereignty, that this fight goes on and on and on and on and on.

My traditional chief told me -- when I was recruited to run for chairman last, I was in office a year, we have three-year terms. So I started when I was 23, I'm 56 now. So I've seen different leaders through time. I was happy to see my father Norbert, Purcell Powless, Roger Jourdain, Wendell Chino, Oren and a lot of folks. I was really blessed with seeing how these guys protect sovereignty and the fire and brimstone routine that Chairman Chino used to represent. It was all about sovereignty and his territory and 'you'd be damned if you do something in my territory, over my dead body,' it was like that. And now I think I kind of feel like that's kind of missing. I don't feel the fire in people's belly anymore. I feel a little bit here when I hear some of the speakers, but I don't oftentimes feel it.

And then as I go back home, we have 16,000 members, we have 3,000 employees, and we have a large general tribal council, which is the ultimate body. And so with that -- $100 a meeting for our members to come to the meeting -- we get anywhere from 1,500 to over 2,000 people at a meeting, but they all left because of relocation programs and survival reasons. So like a generation and a half, they're back home, so to speak. And so when they drive up, the infrastructure's there, the casino's there, the bank's there, the industrial park's there, all these kinds of things are there. So they didn't have any sweat equity into building this, so they have a different mindset about what that's all about.

But I have a fond appreciation, [because] when we had our debate about the per capita issue more recently, they were going to issue, they emptied the coffers at one time -- like you said, the other council -- but the other general tribal council took the position that they were going to pay themselves first. And so they emptied about $89 million out of the coffers that took us generations to build. And then more recently, we had a conversation [because] there was another petition for another $160 million for our 16,000 members. And so I asked if they would suspend the rules. And so as the meeting went on, they eventually suspended the rules. We had great testimony then [because] they knew -- when we talked early on at this conference here about traditional values and way of discussing and consensus building, that's what we ended up doing. So we had a lot of testimony about [that] land was important, health care was important, educational resources are important and all these kinds of things were more important than the dollars as an individual member. So it was nation first and then let's talk about, 'Can we afford the per capita later on?'

And so that was important in terms of – [Because] in 1934 we went through, you guys understand the Allotment Act. And we lost most of our land and we went down to a few hundred acres. And with the advent of gaming we were able to buy land back, and tobacco sales, we were able to buy a lot of our land back. So that builds more the foundation of what we do in the community and the institutions we put into our community. The importance of nation building, to get everybody on the same page in terms of the allocation of resources for certain priorities for the nation, and that's the challenge that we have now. What does that look like? What are the priorities? There's only so many resources. And how do you allocate them on priorities?

So when I got into the office a year ago or so, we had a 100-day plan, and it evolved to the 200-day plan, [because] there was so much to vet, in terms of what we're going to do. So we established three standing committees on quality of life and economic development, commerce and land development. I think was another subcommittee. So I think we got a way to funnel our issues in and they're vetted and then they're brought as recommendations to the committee later on. So we've been able to at least go in that direction.

The other thing I think it's important to mention, at least I think it is, is about what Oren kind of alluded to early on in his open remarks. And there's an urgency about all this subject matter we're talking about here. There is an urgency to get things in place and to find the best talent to protect your inherent sovereignty. And a lot of it is related to the climate changes and stuff like that, and then it relates back to health of the community. And I think on the climate change issue, I don't know who this group of people is, but I heard about a group of elders and medicine people one time who were discussing that. And we need to demand to get into that conversation [because] they probably can help position us with that message and how we should prepare for that time. And then I look at our farm thing and I was thinking about that too. And our farm is to have more of a traditional way of agriculture. And then you look at, I go to my health center, and if you want to campaign, you'll see everybody at the health center. We have a huge health center, but you'll see everybody there, right? We've got heart issues, diabetic issues, we're a sick people. We are. And the only cure for that is really, good eating and a healthier lifestyle. The other subgroup we have is called the Quality of Life, so we're trying to look at the quality of life for our people. Although we have this great farm, not everybody uses the farm [because] it's a lot easier going to Walmart to pick up your frozen food, right? So to me it's about, food is the medicine, the fresher the better. And if we can, like I said, the farmers' market should be right next to the health center. So people can get their medicine or more traditional forms of medicine should be in the health center. So these kinds of things, we've got to breath more healthier lifestyle into our people and if you have strong individuals then you've got stronger families then you've got a stronger community and those kinds of things. So I think in terms of what the message Oren was talking about -- the climate and the health of the people in the community -- it starts on the ground. And we need to really make a bigger push urgently to try to get that done. I think that's an important thing to advance here.

I had a lot of other Kennedy jokes to share with you. However, my time is limited and they're really for late night. The other thing that we're doing, we know we don't have resources to do the things, [because] we don't have tax bases as governments, so we're in the process of really working with our corporations to try to monetize what we're doing within our corporations. And then some of you asked me a question about the silos in the communities, and we're bringing groups together to break down the silos and collaborate to really have a stronger more vibrant economy. And more recently we started businesses in the environmental arena, and it does environmental engineering, construction and management services. We were able to buy a golf course that was bankrupt and to expand our hospitality business, to go along with our casino and other things we do well. We're looking at the biomass projects, and [I] was happy to work with Chief [James] Gray here [because] he's the present Chief of the Consortium of Renewable Energy Nations. So I wanted to put that out there. If you're interested in that, we can get you information. By us coming together to define the organization and to address the federal legislation on citing and permitting, and get some of these federal citing and permitting issues, impediments lifted, have some kind of one-stop-shopping thing. Because on the investment side, we've got to be competitive with the commercial side -- no one's going to invest in our renewable energy projects. So we've got to work hard on that legislative piece and we all need to come together to help do that.

One last thing is our committee decided to address Public Law 280 and retrocede [jurisdiction] from the State of Wisconsin. And that happened when I was 23. Now they're going to revisit that folder and try to build a plan to move towards that. And I think that's a good thing in terms of what are we doing to address sovereign issues and exercising our own sovereignty. So that's really important that we get all of our infrastructure. So we're really looking at our judicial system and giving them more authority and more power and those kinds of things. The other thing that's kind of a thorn in their side and John -- [I] was happy to see John after many years -- after the gaming wars, to come to our community and talk about these anti-Indian groups that are rearing their ugly heads again. We should all be aware of that. I think up north in northern Wisconsin there's actually billboards from the...from the fishing wars to more sophisticated ways of campaigning to change federal Indian law and Indian policy. They're more sophisticated in their messaging and their networking. They have more expertise to try to disrupt Indian tribal governments, as we want to exercise our sovereignty. So they don't like land into trust. They don't like you to have jurisdiction. And all these battles go on, so we need to all pull together.

In Wisconsin, we're working with the 11 nations there to organize and do something that John has done in the past, that have proven to be successful, some public service announcements regarding our communities and what we're capable of and what we can do. But we need to be aware of that, because that's just an ongoing battle. I guess they figured they job ain't done. They didn't exterminate us yet, so they're going to figure to try to change Indian federal law and policy to thwart our governing authorities, our inherent rights. So be aware of that, if you haven't noticed it. But that's something that will affect all of us -- if they can change Indian federal law and policy, that's going to affect all of our communities. So they'll be trying to find a court case that they can advance and the courts. My dad always told me, 'It's really hard for an Indian to get a fair trial on a court that sits on stolen land.' So there's enough case law to support that theory my dad was trying to teach me when I was much younger. You can't get a fair trial in a court that sits on stolen land.

So we need to be careful about when they think it's a controversy and they want to raise it up to the area and raise it higher. We got a case that was about condemnation in our community and we thought we had the set of facts on our side. And we usually do when we want to advance something, and only to have Judge Griesbach look the other way and be political and say they could condemn our fee land. So we stopped there [because] it affects us, but we couldn't advance that [because] then it'll affect everybody else, right? So even when you've got the facts on your side, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get a fair day, so be conscious of that as we get challenged by these rednecks to get us into a court situation. As Charlie would say, 'You should never judge a man by the color of his neck.'

All right, so I guess these remarks didn't do me any good today, but I wanted to put that energy out there and hopefully get your attention on some things here. And I appreciate the good work of my niece here, Megan Hill, and all of your good work. Don't take no prisoners, and don't become one. Thank you."

Patricia Ninham-Hoeft: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office (2009)

Native Nations Institute

Oneida Nation Business Committee Secretary Patricia Ninham-Hoeft reflects on her role as a leader for the Oneida Nation and offers advice for newly elected leaders.

Resource Type

Ninham-Hoeft, Patricia. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 25, 2009. Presentation. 

"Thank you. And I want to reiterate what Mike [Mitchell] had said too. Welcome and congratulations to many of you who are new leaders and many of you who are continuing on in that position. I am the Tribal Secretary for the Oneida Business Committee in Wisconsin. We're located about eight miles west of Green Bay. The reservation is overlapped with several competing municipalities, two different counties, I think five municipalities. And our kids, we have our own tribal school but yet we still have five different public schools, districts that divide up the reservation.

As I said, I'm serving my second term. I was first elected to the tribal secretary position in 2005 and was recently elected seven months ago to a second term. And it's that second term that really poses some new challenges for me. Mike, before we had talked, Mike had reminded me when he first met me I was here at this event and talking about my experience and I was a very frustrated person, very frustrated council person. And it's funny that after the new elections, our new chairman Rick Hill was looking at the photographs that the council that I was on when I first got elected, looking at those photographs and he saw mine. And I looked very different three years ago than I did today. And he laughs and he says, "˜What is this, your high school picture?' It's because in those three years the work was very demanding. And the role was a very big burden that I'm not complaining about but just, and I know you all know that, that it's a big responsibility.

I always wanted to be the tribal secretary, or on the business committee. I always wanted to be on the business committee since I was a kid. And it's because of my mother, Sandy Ninham. And my mom as a young woman started working in her community, she was working in the tribe's civic center in their recreation, youth recreation program. And she and another woman, during that time, liked to play bingo at the local VFWs. And the civic center was having trouble getting its utility bills paid. So she and Elma Webster started their own bingo game in the gymnasium. That was in 1975-76. And today it grew into the Oneida casino, which now employs 3,000 people, 1,500 of those at the casino and 1,500 staffing different programs and services for our community. And it's my mom's can-do spirit, her entrepreneurial spirit that has always been my guide. And always in our house, either at my mom's kitchen table or her mom's kitchen table, relatives always gathered there to talk about and complain about what the tribe was and wasn't doing. So that's the story about why I'm here today.

Serving my second term as a tribal secretary comes after three years of being really frustrated. And I think this last seven months I've calmed things down and have learned a bit about how to be more effective. And that's sort of the basis for my story today is how to become more effective. Well, I'm going to talk to you about some of the things that I was surprised about when I got elected and then talk about some of the skills and maybe experiences that are helpful to someone if you're going to serve on the tribal council, some regrets or things that I wish I would have done differently, and then I'll end with some tips of things I've learned the hard way.

So getting elected, there were some surprises. One was, once I got elected it was the feeling of fear that I had, which caused me to be paralyzed at times and resulted in -- and I think a lot of the people, we have nine people on the business committee and I just wonder if they all had the same feelings -- because many times we'd have group think. And I don't have a good explanation for it now, but it's one thing that if you are working on a committee to know what it is and to know how to prevent it. Because oftentimes you're faced and confronted with many problems and you end up looking at each other not saying anything, no one's saying anything, and everybody wondering who's supposed to do something.

The other surprise I had was just learning how to become confident. That you sort of have that new honeymoon period of three to six months in your position, and you feel awkward and new, and you're trying to live up to that perception that everybody wants you to do something, but it's in that period where if you can relax and allow yourself to find your voice, but it's normal.

I've learned that you can't make promises. That no matter how small it is, do not promise anyone anything. Promise that you'll get their issue heard, promise that you'll present their request someplace, but don't guarantee that you're going to solve it. That's also advice from my mom who, my mom went on and served on the tribal council for three terms for nine years.

One of the things I also was surprised about is the amount of meetings you attend per day and night. And the meetings are important. You have to know the different kinds of meetings. You have informational meetings, meetings where you make decisions, meetings where you just, it's team building, but you have to come to those meetings and you have to come prepared.

Resistance was a big surprise for me when I got elected, because I thought once you got on the business committee that automatically everyone would embrace your ideas but that doesn't happen at all. You have to earn it from your managers and you have to earn it from your peers, especially. And it takes work and it takes a lot of time.

High expectations is another surprise and that one I get and I've gotten from myself: high expectations from my myself, from my peers, my friends and my own experience. High expectations, it's like the constituents, they think you can fix anything or they think that the business committee is responsible for solving all their problems. And you oftentimes disappoint people by what you did or by what you didn't do. The great story I use for myself is with my mom when she was on the council, and oftentimes she'd come home and want to vent or complain or have someone to talk to about maybe an issue she and the council were struggling with, but yet she didn't come home to a supportive daughter. She came home to a daughter who was criticizing my mom and telling her what she should have done and as a result she came home but she didn't talk to me anymore. And so now as I'm going through that experience and having it happen to me by my friends who pushed me to run, "˜We'll be right there for you, Patty.' And when I failed to do something right or failed to do what they thought I should do, they weren't there. And we're just recovering from that, my friends, we're just talking about that. And so it's important that you find somebody who's going to be there for you regardless of what you do, you need that person. And then to be easy on yourself, because oftentimes you're the biggest critic and then also, with your peers on your council 'cause they're probably feeling the same thing and they don't need their peer to be hounding them.

Skills and experience: before I got elected I wish I was better at conflict resolution as a skill. And the biggest thing about conflict resolution is how to avoid it in the first place, how to have the skills that you listen first, have the discipline to not react, have the respect to see all sides, know it first. And then if you are in conflict -- and I think Mike gave some really great examples of all that -- is work hard to find ways to resolve it and never give up in trying to find that common ground. Because I think with politics people forget that politics is about dealing with conflicts but using words to do it instead of violence and guns. And so you are in the business as a political leader to work on conflict.

Know the difference between governing and managing. Oftentimes, at least in Oneida, I see people crossing the lines in day-to-day business. Oftentimes, I see the elected officials getting involved in the day-to-day business. And I think it's because you don't know the difference between the questions of what to do and how to do it. And as an elected official your responsible for, I feel like I'm responsible to decide with my committee what gets done, what are we going to do, what are we going to accomplish, and then being able to articulate that so that your managers then can figure out how to achieve it. But that one question is hard and I think it stems in vision and strategy. And it's hard on a day-to-day basis to think about strategy. It's not sexy. It's easy to talk about, "˜Well, let's have a PR [public relations] campaign, and let's write five articles, and let's build a hospital, let's have an oxygen chamber for diabetes.' Those are all tactical kinds of things and our job is to focus on, 'What is our community going to be in 25 years or 100 years? Who are we?' And oftentimes too you'll hear managers accuse you of, at least I have, of being involved in day-to-day. And that's usually a red flag for me that either I am interfering and messing up my role or that they want to keep me out. And so that's where governing comes in that you have to know that you're responsible for governing, which means setting the direction and the vision but don't forget you have to oversee things. Oversight is especially important, that you have to make sure that your managers are doing what they said they were going to do, that the money that they got budgeted to them, that they're spending it the way they're supposed to spend it.

And then know what success looks like because you'll be given balance sheets, you'll be given financial reports, you'll be given reports to look at and you have to know what success looks like. The financial area is a big thing that I recommend everyone, if you're on a tribal council that you have to know the difference between a budget and a fiscal responsibility role. Budgeting is about spending. You start, you make a prediction about how much you're going to spend in a year to accomplish a certain number of things and you watch that, just like you would your own checkbook at home. But it's the balance sheet; it's the income statement that you get that is intimidating. So find, maybe there's somebody in your community who's a CFO of some local business or a non-profit and reach out to that person for advice.

Relationships is important, especially in a community like mine where we have all these different competing municipalities around us, that we have good relationships with various people in the community there. Also having relationships within your own tribe, be involved as best you can and within your own committee, that the relationships that you have with each other are important. That yeah, you're going to disagree and you're going to vehemently disagree, but in the end you still have to be kind to each other because you live with these people. For me, I've grown up with the people I serve with. They've either been older people who served as my mentor or we went to the same high school and college together.

And know the rules of your tribe, know your constitution, know your treaties, know the rules that your committee uses to operate and know the rules of the municipalities that are around you. Facilitating is another good skill to have and then also as I said earlier, knowing how to work as a body because for me, I'm one of nine members that serve on the committee. I don't have any authority as an individual. That authority only comes when we convene as a group and as a body.

And then finally look around, make sure you're always learning and look around the world. There's some great books out there about what other nations, what other Indigenous communities are doing to grow their communities. And look at that because I often hear the expression "˜power likes a vacuum' and you can see that, but "˜ignorance creates the vacuum.' And that's a phrase I just learned from a book about the cultural impact on development and prosperity in developing countries. Ignorance creates a vacuum. And I see that a lot when you're with people and they're not learning and they're not reaching out looking for new ideas and they're stuck in a mindset that doesn't work today.

Things I wish I had done differently: I wish I had held my tongue and controlled my emotions. There's a difference between being passionate and angry. And there's a difference between being persuasive and argumentative. And you just don't talk behind someone's back because you're trying to win people over to your ideas and they're not going to listen to you if you act with disrespect.

I have a great experience. When I first got elected there was a person on the council and I hadn't even started my first day. I was so full of energy and I was going to change things and do things differently and I just, I yelled and screamed in this meeting with her. And I still have not forgiven myself for that experience yet. I think she has of me, but if you can avoid having that happen to you, hold your tongue and control your emotions. It takes a lot of discipline, but it'll benefit you in the long run.

The other thing I regret, I wish I would have done differently is taking a public stance on per capita in my community. In 2008 last year we had a general tribal council meeting. And I don't know how many are organized the way Oneida is, but we have the IRA constitution, we have a general type of council that convenes. Everyone 21 and older, regardless of where they live, when they convene, it takes 50 people to sign a petition and then you have to call a meeting and a minimum of 75 have to show up for that meeting. Well, I could see this coming, many of us did see this coming that when the business committee became or wasn't dealing with the right problems, factions got very powerful. And so we had a petition for a per capita payment of $5,000 to people who were, I forget what the age, 55 and younger would get a one-time $5,000 payment and then everyone older would get $10,000. And more than 800 people came out for that GTC meeting and it passed. And all of the debate leading up to it, no one, I don't think any one person really stood up against that idea. And I was on the council at the time and sat back and let it happen. And I look back and I try to examine why I did that. And I know one of the reasons why I think it was fear. I was afraid to stand up. I was afraid to stand up against a popular interest. It's important when you have your family and your friends who are going to support you, that's when they're important and necessary [because] then they'll help you; so you're not alone, so you can do what's right.

And then wisdom to share: some tips. It's be dependable, be consistent, be transparent, accessible and prepared. That's how you gain trust. Right now in Oneida, we have this fantastic blogger who is very critical of the business committee and tribal government. And they're always talking about, "˜That business committee is corrupt, it's the good old boy system and the good old girl system, and they're secretive.' We're always getting those accusations and in fact, and daily. So the internet has been a good thing while bringing openness but it goes both ways. You get that feedback right away. But as long as you're dependable, consistent, transparent, accessible and prepared, you may not have to worry too much about that.

Know that you can't do it by yourself -- especially if you're on a committee, as in my case -- that you've got to change their minds too and being persuasive is the key, not attacking them; and knowing that to get your idea across, it takes time -- it may not happen the first meeting or the second or the tenth, but eventually it does happen, you can see. And you can't do it all at once, plant seeds -- and I've learned to be very excited about small changes, seeing that incremental change. And then embrace resistance -- you'll get a lot of resistance but embrace it, don't run away from it and don't be afraid of it: use it. Learn what they're saying, why are they resisting it, use it to help fashion your idea and make your idea better because -- like Mike said -- it's about building community and it's about building a people. And for me, it's about building a place where my kids are going to want to come back to and invest their lives and their grandchildren's lives forever and ever. So, good luck." 

Patricia Ninham-Hoeft: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office (2008)

Native Nations Institute

Oneida Nation Business Committee Secretary Patricia Ninham-Hoeft reflects on her experience as a leader of her nation, and shares a list of the five leadership skills she wished she had mastered before she took office.

Resource Type

Ninham-Hoeft, Patricia. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 25, 2008. Presentation.

"Good morning. My name's Patty Hoeft. I'm the Tribal Secretary on the Oneida Business Committee, which is a nine-member committee that's elected every three years. We are facing elections this July, and it's my first time serving for my tribe and so I'm entering or finishing up my third year. Why I ran for tribal secretary is something that I always wanted to do since I was a kid, and I always wanted to be on the Oneida Business Committee. My mother served three terms on the Business Committee and she and another woman founded Oneida Bingo back in the mid "˜70s, and so I've always been involved in tribal politics. But the situation I inherited or stepped into when I won was very different than what I thought it would be. I thought that before getting elected that I was energetic and enthusiastic and I had big dreams and I was going to help make positive changes. I was going to help deal with the frustration that has been running through my community for the past 10, 15 years or so, and right now we're seeing that frustration I think starting to climax a bit. I'm hoping it's climaxing, and I think the frustration is just from tribal members who want more from their tribe or expect better performance from the Business Committee or the people that they elect. So I came to the job, took my oath with all of those ideas, and instead after three years I find myself in tears wanting to quit, wanting to rip out the part of me that feels Oneida and walk away from it. I feel very overwhelmed and it's been very hard and so I've been trying to search for reasons to explain why it's that way, because it's not just that way for me. My mother talked about it all through her terms, and I remember the difficulties she had -- nine years on the council -- and the people that would come up to her and asking her, "˜Sandy, you can solve this, do something about it.' And when she didn't, even me, her daughter, turned my back on her, and I find myself in that situation now: dear friends of mine feeling disappointed in what I didn't do or didn't do enough of.

So things that I wanted to talk about that I think I would have liked to have known before I ran I think start with leadership skills, and the second area are roles and responsibilities of the council itself and the importance of visioning and strategy setting. As tribal secretary, I came into a job that has a dual role. It's both a management position because I am supervising a staff and we have a specific function to carry out, a constitutional function, and that's to organize the council's meetings, take the minutes, maintain the official record, and do that not only for the council but for the General Tribal Council. And the General Tribal Council is when 75 voter-eligible members come together for a meeting and they form the council, which in the last couple of years has been setting the course for what's happening in Oneida. I'm the tribal secretary. My dual role, I have to be a manager, an administrator, and also a leader on the council, a policy maker. As the tribal secretary, I inherited the staff, I inherited a staff that was not content with their position. We had complaints about the individual performance of staff. We had complaints about the function of the office itself, that it wasn't performing. And so I came in with a vision for the tribal secretary's office based on my background as a journalist. I worked as a newspaper reporter for the Green Bay Press Gazette for a few years and covered the tribe a little bit, and always the frustration is the lack of openness and transparency in Oneida. So I really saw the tribal secretary's office and function as a way to start initiating good government ideas. How to make sure that the business and the affairs of the council, of the government, were available and open to the constituency that we served.

So leadership skills? There are five of them that I think that I wish that I had spent more time knowing more about before I took the job. They seem to be five that I stumbled across throughout the last three years that I saw myself, I think, naturally engaging in. The first is a catalyst. It's leading innovations and managing change. It's skill in motivating and promoting change. It's being future orientated and inspiring and having a vision. And I see myself when I first took office as really taking a catalyst role, coming in and changing a mindset, changing expectations and changing...challenging the status quo. And so a lot of that meant motivating others, persuading them to understand what I was seeing, and trying to persuade them to jump on and help me pursue this vision.

The next is collaboration, and that's building community through inspiration, empowerment and really working together in partnership with not just my fellow peers on the Business Committee, but also the tribal constituency themselves. And I felt, growing up in Oneida, that a lot of times things were done in a vacuum, ideas were done in a vacuum. And so this was a way to kind of try to find ways to reach out in helping people help themselves. And I think the collaboration skill is important because there seems to be, in Oneida at least, this dependency mindset, that everybody sits back and they wait for the Business Committee to solve all the problems and come up with all the answers, and it's really trying to tell people that my role as an elected official is merely to represent and reflect the will of the people, that it's up to you to organize at a grassroots level and come up with ideas and then together we will put them into action.

A communicator is the next skill, learning how to deal with interpersonal relations, how to be in a public speaking situation, and also how to deal with personal attacks, and verbal judo I think is a course that I would recommend for anyone because the attacks come from all over the place, and I've learned just recently after surviving a round of personal attacks that how I reacted really helped move it into a more positive path. And I think that starts, too, with having self-discipline over your own emotions, that you really have to hang on to your gut and have faith that it will pass and it will get better, and so that's been really important. In fact there was one evening where I stayed up I think until 3:00 a.m. searching the internet for verbal judo lessons to get through a round of attacks.

The next is just be a competent practitioner, knowing the difference between effective governance and managing and having knowledge about the tribal, your tribes' rules and processes and culture, the constitution, the by-laws, ordinances. And you also need to know the rules of the surrounding municipalities that you will interact with.

And then the last one, the fifth one, is just personal, the cornerstone of personal leadership, growth and development. These are things that I've been dealing with in a personal way and it's my tone. I came in as I said very enthusiastic, I was going to make change, I was going to challenge the status quo and I wasn't afraid to do that and I wasn't going to take any prisoners, and so my tone was very angry and harsh. And when I realized -- after coming down from some of these episodes -- that I was dealing with people who I grew up with. I was dealing with older folks who were my mentors when I was a kid and here I was using this harsh tone on them and not realizing that we all make mistakes and that we're all trying the best we can. So over the last three years -- and I'm still having difficulty with it -- is trying to temper my tone so that it's more productive and still passionate, but not so damaging. And having patience I think, where you're in it for the long haul, that the big changes I thought were going to happen I'm going to have to settle for small ones and be satisfied with that. But having patience that it will work out. And then making sure that when you make decisions that you're able to live with yourself about them and that you choose your battles wisely.

Leadership skills, and there's five of them that I think are ones that I wished I would have spent more time honing before I took office, but it's the catalyst and it's collaboration, communicator, competent practitioner, and the cornerstone of your own personal leadership and development. Then I just wish our council spent more time early on getting to know each other. When we first came together, it seemed that we spent a couple of days kind of having a really quick overview of the tribe as an organization itself, trying to see what departments and divisions were doing, but then it seemed like the nine people just broke up and everyone went their individual ways. I think it would be important that when you start that you sit down and you clarify roles and responsibilities with each other and expectations -- not just as a council as a whole, but each individual person on it. And then learning to identify the kinds of decisions that the council is expected to make, because there are decisions that the council shouldn't make, but people would like you to make them. And knowing the difference between governing and oversight and setting direction versus getting involved in the day-to-day matters and micromanaging. That's a tough one, and I think it stymies a lot of folks in knowing the difference between it. I see extremes. I see some council members who say, "˜I'm not getting involved in day-to-day matters,' and so they also throw out the responsibility of oversight. Let managers decide that. Well, there's a difference and I think knowing...talking about it upfront so that everyone's clear is important. And then group think, learning what group think is, how to avoid it, how to set up a process among your council so that it's okay to speak out and disagree with each other and that speaking out doesn't mean that you're disloyal to the group or that you're trying to shake up the balance of good feelings that everybody has, but that it's important to disagree.

Then I also wish that our council spent more time getting a comprehensive look at the organization itself and focusing on visioning and strategy, "˜cause too often today we get caught up in the bickering and the fighting and the power struggles, and it's's these power and control struggles. It's like playing Monopoly with family once a year and everybody comes to the table with their own set of rules and you never get to finish the game "˜cause you're all bickering over what the rules are. It's really important I think to come together and look at the organization and find out what do we do and how are we doing and who do we serve.

There are just so many things I think in Oneida that we're responsible for as elected leaders, so many services. There's public safety, long-term care, health care, environmental protection, land use and planning, relationships with surrounding municipalities. Then you have investments, you have the annual budget and then you have the golden goose for Oneida is our gaming operation and knowing how to manage that. It's sitting down in the beginning and getting a good comprehensive look at all of that before you start off I think is important.

Bottom line is you can't do it alone, that change is slow and I wish I would have started small. I wish I would have valued relationships more in the beginning. I'm trying to go back and repair some of those things. Learning to fight the right fights, knowing when to fight is important. And visioning -- trying to get the council to focus on visioning versus managing, and really trying to answer the question, 'What do we want to be 100 years from today?' And for Oneida, we're eight miles west of the City of Green Bay, and we're surrounded by municipalities and we have a major fight with a village that lies entirely within our reservation boundaries and they just hired an Indian fighter from the CERA [Citizens Equal Rights Alliance] group. I forgot what that stands for, Equal Rights Alliance. So we've got some major battles ahead but it's exciting, I'm glad to be a part of it and I just know it will...I just have faith it will work out. Thank you."

Honoring Nations: Patricia Ninham-Hoeft: Oneida Nation Farms

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Patty Ninham-Hoeft, Business Committee Secretary for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, discusses the impact of Oneida Nation Farms on the Oneida community and how it is a concrete expression of tribal sovereignty.

Resource Type

Ninham-Hoeft, Patricia. "Oneida Nation Farms," Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Heather Kendall-Miller:

"Now the people that we have today, on our panel, each have wonderful programs that they have been affiliated with, and each of them have their own stories of leadership and the roles that leadership played in developing nationhood. The first person that we are going to -- I want to first make note that we are missing, unfortunately, Tim Mintz, who was going to be here to speak on behalf of the Tribal Historic Preservation project and he is an officer of the Standing Rock Sioux [Tribe]. The Tribal Monitors program was one that we honored in 2005, a wonderful program. And you'll find in your reading material a summary of that program. And even though Tim is not here to speak about that today, I encourage you to look at that for yourself...We are going to begin with Patty Ninham-Hoeft and she's the tribal secretary with the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. She's going to speak a little bit about the Oneida Farms project that was given high awards in 2005. Very, very interesting I would say. Again, [I] happened to be there. It was one of these stunning projects that we're all going, 'Yeah, yeah!' So with that, here's Patty."

Patty Ninham-Hoeft:

"Good afternoon. My name's Patty Ninham-Hoeft. I'm the tribal secretary for the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin. I'm serving my first term as one of nine people elected to the tribe's Oneida Business Committee. I'm here to talk about the Farm, which was honored by the Honoring Nations program in 2005 as an example of leadership. And I'm feeling very humble, a little not confident because I didn't really have, I didn't actually have any role in developing the Farm as an applicant to receive that award. Although I was there watching the people on our team compete for that award. What I'm going to share with you are some of the perceptions that I, personally, have about what the Farm represents to me and as a reflection of what I think is occurring in my tribe in Oneida. I think the Farm is a quiet leader. It's the result of working hard and doing a good job every day. And that comes -- that's a description from Pat Cornelius who, at 69-years-old, is still managing the Farm. You look at Pat and she looks younger than I do.

The idea for the Farm started around 1978 with 150 acres of land, 25 head of cattle. But many people since 1978 have worked that idea about having a farm. Today, the farm has I think almost 9,000, or more than 9,000 acres of land. 4,000 or more are in a mix of crops. There's alfalfa, corn silage, corn, soybeans, wheat, some pasture. And 4,000 acres of that land is used for federal conservation programs. We have restoration programs in place of wetlands and trout streams and waterways. We even have some cooperation going on with local municipalities in restoring some of the smaller trout streams that run through the reservation. We have Black Angus as livestock, about 450-550, and 125 or so cow/calf grazing programs. When I was asked to present on the Farm, that was a surprise to me, because as soon as I saw that the summit was announced, I immediately signed up because I wanted to attend because I'm a big fan of this project. And so then later, when I was asked to talk about the Farm, I sat down with Pat Cornelius to talk to her about it. And really all Pat had to say about the Farm was that it was just the result of hard work and doing a good job every day. And I kept urging her to describe more about what this represented and that was all I could get. So that's why you're going to get my perceptions.

The Farm I think is becoming visible. It's been a quiet leader, but it's becoming visible. And I think the visibility came when it got the 2005 award. And for me, someone who grew up in Oneida, I kind of took the Farm for granted. I watched in 1978 as some people, a little older than me then, tried to create a place where they could grow some indigenous crops and I watched them struggle and I watched the community beat it down and I watched somebody revive the idea. And then in 1992, I think that's when Pat came around, and she started running the Farm.

The Farm is becoming visible in ways that, because it uses tribal dollars and it manages the Farm with tribal members and it uses its land for the common good of the tribe. It generates revenues; it's a way to offset taxes. Because Oneida is a checkerboard reservation, we have overlapping jurisdictions across Oneida. We have two counties, we have a village and a town, we have the city of Green Bay, we have the village of Ashwaubenon, we have five public school districts and -- I think there's two towns actually, the town of Oneida and the town of Pittsfield. So we have lots of complexities and our goal has always been to reacquire our lands by the year 2020, or reacquire 51 percent of the lands by 2020. And so the Farm is a way as we're acquiring the lands, reacquiring through purchasing -- It's difficult to convert that land into trust status so we have taxes to pay. So this is a way to farm the land, get revenue back, and offset those taxes. The Farm is also a place that gives jobs and it's also become a place where Oneida gets to practice its culture. It's a place where Oneida values are brought to life. It's also a place where we get a chance to exercise our sovereignty.

Ways in which the Farm is a quiet leader: People want to buy the farm products, not just Oneida people, but people in the surrounding Green Bay metropolitan area. And the tribe -- marketing right now is a problem, Pat says. It's time to start marketing the product; right now it's just word of mouth. And you see the products in the local grocery store, at Festival Foods. And it's a source of pride, I think, for tribal members to walk down the aisles and see, in the fresh produce aisle, Oneida apples and to see people wanting to buy Oneida apple cider and specifically looking for it. It's great to be around people -- I belong to a sailing club and if we have cookouts they want Oneida buffalo burgers and buffalo brats. And it's great to have white corn products in your refrigerator. I remember as a kid growing up, the only way to get corn bread, white corn bread, these hard heavy loaves, was usually at Thanksgiving time and they were hand-made by elders in the community. But now you can get them every day.

Area farmers, another place where we're having some leadership is with area farmers. I think when the Farm was starting in those early years, local farmers looked at Oneida and said, 'Can these Indians farm? What are those Indians doing?' And now they are still asking that same question, but they're doing it because they want to learn and replicate our practices. So what's happening there is we're building relationships with our neighbors, and understanding.

Pat, as the manager, also is changing the role of women and the role of age. At 69-years-old and a woman managing a farm, she's breaking stereotypes and setting new examples for us.

The Farm also is helping us maintain the rural character of the reservation. And as I described all the multiple layers of jurisdiction, we have lots of competition for land use with Oneida and that competition is from developers. And Oneida is struggling right now because we don't have strong zoning rules, we don't have a comprehensive plan in place. And so the people that are defining how Oneida will look, how the geography of Oneida will be used, are the developers. And I see it happening on the outer perimeters of the reservation. I drive around and what was once rural, is now filled with pole metal buildings, storage sheds, and they're starting to define what my place is going to look like. So the farm is a way to kind of get this land, put it to use, and kind of slow development for a bit. And it's also good for, when we're paying taxes, because agricultural land, maybe some real estate people will argue with that, but it's a better tax base because there's less infrastructure to support it. So they're happy. And then it also helps to preserve the continuation of hunting. My dad, my brothers grew up hunting on the reservation, but as Green Bay encroaches into the res, hunting is becoming less and less. There are less places to do that. And, in fact, the village of Hobart, which is on half of the reservation, is starting to assert its rules of not allowing hunting.

The Farm has become a place to teach children and families about where their food comes from, the cultural values that Oneida had in regards to food and in regards to the land. And it's also a place where we're learning, revitalizing our language. One aspect of the Farm is called Tsyunhehkwa. And it's an Oneida word that means 'provides life for us.' And sometimes, on a good day, as I'm writing out a check for something there I can spell it from memory. But I run into my friends who aren't Oneida and they talk about going to Tsyunhehkwa to get essential oils or an herb. And the Farm has become a place to gather for community events. They have husking bee events, jigging contests.

The idea of the Farm, like I said, has been worked on by many people and I've watched them struggle; but Pat, I have to give credit to Pat who said to me -- when we were talking about what she does and what I do and the struggles that Oneida is having now and she said, 'You couldn't pay me enough money to be on the Business Committee.' But I think she's found a place to provide leadership for people who get elected to the Business Committee and she is an example of many community leaders from her generation who saw a problem, who took the initiative, had the spirit of entrepreneurism, and they went to work and they found ways to solve it. And my mother is an example of that generation. Pat's 69, my mom is 64, and when my mom was 32 years old (and I'm 45), she and another woman started Oneida Bingo in the gymnasium of the tribe's civic center. And they started it because, she was working in the civic center, couldn't afford to pay the utility bills, and they were playing Bingo at the local VFW and they started their own game; and it grew and grew. And in 1980, the tribe was issuing payroll checks for the first time and she was building a new building across from the airport in Green Bay. It's an example I think of people taking the initiative of that generation. And many projects I think that Oneida has been proud of have come from the community.

Oneida has a system where -- we have a direct democracy system where you can petition to have a special meeting, take action. So we have a representative system that I think sometimes is in conflict with that direct democracy system. Fifty people can petition; they get a meeting. As long as 75 people show up for that meeting you have, what you call, a General Tribal Council (GTC) meeting, and it's there where decisions can be made and they are often made there. But from there came ideas like the Farm, where it got its support; a scholarship program that is now in place, where Oneidas who want to pursue higher [education], wherever they live, get $20,000 a year to do that at three different levels -- undergrad, masters and a doctorate program. All those ideas came from the community.

The Farm is also a place like I said to exercise our sovereignty and they do that quietly, I think. It's a place where we can work more at, in the future I think, to develop land use policies. Because I think it's in the land use area where the tribe really is going to need to put its work toward improving, enhancing, our sovereignty. And so it's in zoning, it's how we control development. It's how we decide how someone is going to care for the land, storm water, runoff practices. And it starts with comprehensive planning. And the tribe started a comprehensive-planning process and has been doing it over and over and over again. And we are about to engage a consultant to come and help us do that. And I hope we get it finished next year.

Exercising sovereignty also happens too by knowing where our food comes from. And I have a cousin who's on the council, Paul Ninham, who really is a strong supporter of food sovereignty, and he's been introducing that concept wherever he goes. But it's really, kind of, being able to sustain yourself, sustain the production and the distribution of your food. Diabetes is a big problem in Oneida and according to the application that we submitted 10 percent of our population -- we have 16,000 members -- have diabetes. And they say we get one new patient a day with diabetes. And I think it starts with, it stems from food as one of the components.

My husband and I and our two kids last year started, for one month, for 30 days, we did the local food challenge, the 100-mile diet, where, in October, for one month we would only eat foods that we could find within 100 miles of where we lived. And what we learned from that was that our family became closer, because we spent more time preparing meals. We sat down and ate. Breakfast was really great. We produced less waste. We had less garbage that we brought to the curb. And it tasted better. We went to farmers' markets. We got to meet local farmers. We got to meet people who produce food. But the one thing that we found out was that it was very expensive. That if you wanted to eat good food, you have to have a higher income to do that. And so I think that's a challenge for Oneida too is because even white corn, dried white corn, I think, a pound of it was nine dollars -- very expensive. Controlling our seeds and you talk about heirloom seeds and our farmers market, we have a farmers' market. I forget how old it is, but it's located on an asphalt parking lot behind the tribe's Oneida One Stop gas station in the center of town. And as I was sitting there with Pat last week, we were sitting on a picnic table eating Oneida buffalo burgers and -- but the trucks that were using the gas station, semi-trucks would roll by us as we were talking and I thought, 'This is not the place for a farmers market.' But those are challenges that Oneida has in developing our space.

And then the Farm, as an exercise in sovereignty, helps to spread our ideas about Oneida; our values of Oneida get spread. When people use our food, when they start to depend on us for food and they start to trust what we are providing, I think then that's another chance to express our sovereignty. So, in conclusion, I think we have lots of challenges, lots of opportunities, the Farm is one of those quiet places I think where the community needs to look at as a source of inspiration. We're at a crux in Oneida; we're at a crossroads, I think. We have, we're searching for leadership, we're searching for people like Pat who can help guide the tribe in our next path, our next journey.

The tribe just recently passed a motion at a GTC meeting that created a per capita distribution plan. And on August 11 of this year [2007], we had more than 800 people show up for a GTC meeting. And more than 500 of them agreed that we would have a one-time per capita distribution by December 12 of this year. Tribal members 62 and older will get $10,000 and everyone younger will get $5,000. With 16,000 members, that'll be more than $88 million. It will deplete the rainy day fund that we have spent years and years of building. The vote, I think, is an example of, or a symptom of, an expression of frustration with tribal leadership. And the Business Committee constantly gets blamed for that. And it doesn't matter who's on the Business Committee, it's just the Business Committee gets blamed for that. And I think there's a lot of people who feel they've been invisible, that their needs have not been met. And I think too, the tribe, Oneida -- and I'm very critical of the tribe right now, I'm trying not to be. But I think we've lost sight of our purpose, that we've become great casino managers and thought that the casino was the end result when really it was supposed to be the means to the end. And this vote, as we're trying to figure out how we're going to pay for this and how we're going to distribute it, it really is forcing the entire community, the entire organization to think and reflect on who we are as a people and who we want to be in 25 or 50 years from now.

So I've heard people talk, it's about back to the basics and it's forcing us, that vote is forcing us to go back to the basics and really talk about what we want to be. I'll just leave this -- I was at a history conference in Oneida this summer and I got to hear just the end of someone's talk. It was a professor from Minnesota traveling back to Oneida. He's Oneida. And he said as he was driving home he asked himself, 'How do I know I'm Oneida. How do I know that?' And he said, 'I know because I have a home to come to, I have a place.' And to me, I think part of my purpose, part of being on the Business Committee, part of working for Oneida, is really trying to build, define this vision of what Oneida is going to look like. And it's really busting the stereotypes about a reservation community, about what a reservation community should look like. It's rethinking everything. So the Farm is, I think, a step in that direction at defining the place. And I'm just hopeful that the rest of the community will see it that way. And hopefully, when we come back and talk again that we'll have something more positive about what that vision's going to look like. Thank you very much."