What is the Onondaga Tribe?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Onondaga tribe is one of the Native American tribes of the Northeast. They are considered an integral part of the Iroquois Five Nations, or Iroquois Confederacy. Today, they mostly continue to occupy their traditional homeland, which is located in New York state, south of Syracuse. For the most part, members of the Onondaga tribe still participate in traditional rituals, and many retain traditional beliefs and cultural values.

It is generally accepted that the Onondaga tribe took the side of the British during the American Revolution, after American forces advanced upon their capital city on 20 April 1779. When the British acknowledged U.S. independence, it is believed that many members of the Onondaga migrated north to Canada to begin a new Onondaga nation.

Those members of the Onondaga tribe who remained in the United States signed the Treaty of Canandaigua on 11 November 1974. The U.S. granted the Onondaga rights to their traditional homeland in article II of the treaty. Today, the Onondaga are a sovereign nation within U.S. borders.

Sovereign nations are not typically required to pay taxes to the United States government, nor are they typically required to pay taxes to the State of New York. The Onondaga Nation generally meets its own needs without interference from either state or federal governments. The Onondaga tribe retains its traditional, democratic system of government. A Council of Chiefs governs the tribe.

Unlike some other tribes of the region, the Onondaga Nation does not generally condone the generation of revenue through the use of gambling casinos. The Onondaga Nation typically funds public works by selling tobacco, free of the sales and excise taxes imposed by the U.S. and New York state governments. Funds from the sale of tax-free tobacco generally go to repairing schools, roads and homes, building and maintaining local hospitals, and providing a sports arena for public use.

Modern members of the Onondaga tribe typically pursue conventional professions, including teaching, medicine, and civil service. The Onondaga Nation retains the important, traditional positions of Chief, Faithkeeper and Clan Mother. These revered persons continue to hold an honored position in Onondaga society.

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