Oneida language students and young dancers in full regalia beamed, Oneida pride was palpable during Oneida Day at the Great New York State Fair.
This year was Oneida year – allowing the Oneida Nation to have an increased presence at the Six Nations Indian Village. Among the usual crafts and exhibits visitors were able to see Oneida Princess Jenna Jacobs (Wolf Clan) lead dances, and ambassadors Brooke Thomas (Wolf Clan), Madison Dickerman (Turtle Clan) and Josie Gibson (Turtle Clan) discuss everything from opportunities for Native youth, to the importance of keeping up with traditions.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Jenna said of her experience as princess at the fair. It’s been nice to spend a lot of time here with my family, with Heath Hill (Wolf Clan), my cousin. It’s nice to spend time with so many other people from so many Nations.”
The Six Nations Indian Village united the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora nations for twelve days to exhibit the American Indian history and culture of Central New York. Consistent with the fair theme, “Find Your Great,” the Nations cooperatively displayed arts and crafts and agriculture as well as demonstrated traditional dances and cooking.
One of Jenna’s goals was to serve as a role model and leader for younger generations. She received positive feedback from so many kids who were happy to dance with her and joined her on trips to the midway to explore the Fair. When not ushering the youth around the fair, Jenna kept busy addressing what she called her “honor” – the title of Oneida Princess.
“It’s more of an honor, a position,” she explained. “I found myself explaining to a lot of different people the way our system (of governance) works and how our Nation is run by a council. A lot of people asked how I became Princess and I told them I had to apply for it. That surprised them.”
The history of the village at the fair, the role of the Oneida Council and the impact of Oneida government on the United States, were among the many issues Ray Halbritter (Wolf Clan), Nation Representative, addressed during Oneida Day.
“The Indian Village was established so that people would understand the history of New York and in particular this region,” he said. “The region we are in is the Onondaga Nation territory and around you you’ll see booths and buildings which have exhibits, artifacts and crafts from the 17th century period and on.”
Following Ray’s remarks, Sheri Beglen (Wolf Clan) led the Oneida program as the Nation’s young Members sang a song. Members then performed several social dances. A special moment was shared with the crowd when Tsilos Edwards (Wolf Clan) honored the late Gloria Halbritter (Wolf Clan) with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” in the Oneida language. Finally, dancers exited the stage and encouraged fairgoers to join with them in the uniting Round Dance.