Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter says, "We wanted the Treaty to be honored. We wanted, essentially, our land back. We wanted our land that was promised to us by the Treaty Cloth that we still get our land. Some of us moved back to the 32 acres of land that was left and we began to develop a home there. You can't build a homeland on 32 acres.
In the 1970s, most of the Oneida People, including Halbritter, lived in trailer homes. As they developed the land, lawsuits, conflicts and even tragedy plagued the Oneidas and their neighbors. Halbritter remembers, "There was a fire and there were frantic calls made...(to the city fire department) and the City of Oneida would not respond to the fire. And so, my aunt and uncle burned to death in that fire...with no response.
Officials familiar with the deadly 1975 fire say while it's true that they didn't respond, it wasn't because they didn't want to. They were not legally allowed. Regardless of race or other differences, some in the community offered help and even collected money. It was a generous thought, but Halbritter says sympathy just wasn't going to do it. "We needed to find a way to do something for ourselves," says Halbritter.
And do for itself - the Oneida Nation has. With an idea to raise money for fire prevention resources, Halbritter says he was the first bingo caller at their small bingo hall. But, the bingo ran into trouble. Halbritter says, "The city issues warrant for my arrest for operating bingo without a license."
It took lawsuits, officials, politicians and even the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the legal winds changed in favor of the Oneidas. Halbritter says, "That's how we do what we do today, and how all Indians in Indian Country, which is now a 26 billion dollar industry, that's where gaming started for Indian people.
Getting what some believe is a fair share of that multi-billion dollar industry is just one of the many issues concerning the Oneida's neighboring communities. Former Verona Fire Commissioner Bob Deep says, "The biggest issue is, if they just paid their taxes, like any homeowner...there wouldn't be any problem."
Owen Waller is the town supervisor of Verona. He says, "Other issues would be issues such as water supply and the sewage disposal system." The supervisor says his town shares its water supply with the sprawling resort compound. The deal Verona has with the City of Oneida, he says, allows for up to 240-thousand gallons a day. Waller says, "We have a customer which used the whole daily allotment from the City of Oneida. That doesn't leave a lot of room for school systems, families or businesses."
Despite the many challenges facing the nation and its neighbors, there is hope of reaching peace. Halbritter says, "There are ways through this. We've done many, many deals. If people want to solve something, I believe they can. That's what I believe." Waller seems to echo that sentiment saying, "Hopefully, we can all sit down and resolve some of these problems and work together for the common interest."