On Thursday, October 17, the Vernon Verona Sherrill School District hosted several Oneida Indian Nation Members for a comprehensive half-day curriculum that introduced Oneida culture and history to students in grades 7-12.
The nearly 900 students in attendance were grouped together by grade level and followed a block schedule of activities at the high school’s auditorium and its two gymnasiums.
One block featured an introduction to Oneida culture, language and storytelling offered by the Nation’s language department, with Mary Blau (Turtle Clan), Chelsea Jocko (Wolf Clan) and Claire Patterson (Wolf Clan). The team taught the students some frequently used Oneida words, including “Shek5li” (Greetings) and “N7 ki\ wa” (Salutations).
Karen Pierce (Turtle Clan) and the Nation’s Cultural Programs Coordinator Jessica Farmer shared some Oneida legends and included specific lessons tailored to each age group, while Education Programs Assistant Manager Randy Phillips emceed the conversations.
Another activity block featured a screening of the documentary “The People of the Standing Stone.” This film explores the crucial but little-known history of the extraordinary contributions of the Oneida Indian Nation during the American Revolution. While history books tend to ignore this alliance, “The People of the Standing Stone” spotlights the Oneidas’ support of the rebelling colonists, both on the battlefield and at the military camps where soldiers endured starvation and low morale.
Filling out the day’s curriculum was a talk with Nation Member and Oneida Heritage Manager Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan), who explored the history of the Oneida people in depth and tailored his discussions to each grade level. In speaking to the 7th and 8th graders, he highlighted the Oneida Creation Story. With the 9th and 10th graders, he covered key aspects of the Haudenosaunee Great Law and its impact on the US Constitution. In discussion and Q&A with the 11th and 12th graders, he provided a brief military history of the Oneidas and talked about contemporary issues in Indian country today.
To close out the program, everyone gathered in the auditorium for a social dancing presentation. Dancers Wes Halsey (Wolf Clan), Brooke Thomas (Wolf Clan) and Cam Schenandoah (Wolf Clan) were joined by singer Chris Thomas (Onondaga) and dancer Alexandra Campbell (Onondaga) for a half-hour presentation of several Haudenosaunee social dances, as well as some dances from other Native nations. They concluded with the popular smoke dance and invited several of the students to join in – all of whom were eager to participate.
Afterwards, students had the opportunity to interact with the dancers and take photos. Superintendent Martha Group was delighted to see the kids so highly engaged throughout the day.
“Bringing to life the collective history and culture of the Oneida Indian Nation is so important to us as neighbors in this region,” she said. “It was great to see the students excited to participate in the social dancing and look in on our juniors and seniors engaging with Mr. Patterson on the contemporary issues facing Native people. We certainly look forward to continuing our partnership with the Oneida Indian Nation.”
The Nation’s External Affairs Outreach Associate Derek Montroy (Turtle Clan), one of the organizers of the event, was glad to see the students so attentive and receptive to all of the presenters.
“We hope the students learned something of value today from our speakers and the film,” he said. “American Indians are present today, adding to society in meaningful ways. A program like this goes a long way toward creating a community that truly values mutual respect and understanding.”