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Laura Cornelius Kellogg, Lolomi, and Modern Oneida Placemaking

From: The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 37, Number 3, Summer 2013
pp. 117-138 | 10.1353/aiq.2013.0028

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Laura Cornelius Kellogg, a founding member of the Society of American Indians (sai), had only a brief history with the organization. Cristina Stanciu explores that history in some detail in her essay in this volume, offering an intriguing analysis of Kellogg’s writings and work at the national level. In this essay I turn to Kellogg’s activism and intellectual legacy for the Oneida Nation. A polarizing and fascinating figure, Kellogg had strong views about how increased tribal self-sufficiency could remake the reservation a sustainable place. Kellogg’s emphasis on place and belonging was based on what she called a “protected autonomy,” contributing to a dialogue on how the Oneidas saw themselves as tribal members and Native people. Throughout her life Kellogg tirelessly sought to hold the federal government accountable for exercising its trust responsibility; and yet, in advocating for this relationship, she also was wary of it, at times bluntly criticizing and rejecting it.

Kellogg conceptualized the reservation as a place of industry and sustainability, a place that could be created to foster a tribal sense of identity and connection. Many of her colleagues in the sai were suspicious of her work to reframe the reservation as a place of opportunity. One of Kellogg’s key insights was that a centralized tribal government needed resources to create resources, from which individual Native people would benefit. Lack of economic opportunities fueled social dysfunction on the reservation, she argued; Native reservations could be vibrant places if only they had the economic base to support their members.

Kellogg consistently worked to shape her place as an Oneida woman in the early twentieth century, confronting a colonial government that sought to displace and erase Native presence. In doing so she worked to create spaces that were built on relationships. As a Wisconsin Oneida, Kellogg understood that placemaking was relational, based on the intersecting networks of a number of parties—the federal government, other Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois or Six Nations) people, local non-Natives, and other Native people.1 The Wisconsin Oneida, displaced from New York State, did not abandon ties to their homeland. Kellogg in particular saw the need to strengthen relationships with other Haudenosaunee people, for she understood that the Oneida Nation was inextricably linked to the Six Nations Confederacy in New York State (see Ackley).

In this essay I first discuss how Kellogg envisioned and defined these places. She contributed to and drew on an intellectual space that was informed by the balance between tradition, modernity, and industry. She wrote and lectured about these spaces, particularly in her 1920 book, Our Democracy and the American Indian: A Comprehensive Presentation of the Indian Situation as It Is Today. In her writings, speeches, and testimony Kellogg called for the reservation to be protected and developed economically, politically, and aesthetically. This placemaking was a structure for understanding both the community and the individual, as shared definitions of Oneida identity directed how these places were created and the places then influenced how people viewed themselves. I then consider how Kellogg tried to implement her ideas: in her attempts to buy the Oneida Boarding School and in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Indian Affairs. Kellogg’s creative process of envisioning and planning tribal physical and rhetorical spaces can be called Oneida placemaking, and her actions have implications for the contemporary Oneida reservation.

“The Old Indian Adjusted to New Conditions”: Modernity and Tradition

Laura Cornelius Kellogg was descended from a line of influential Oneida political leaders who had been heavily involved in planning and governing the new reservation. By the time of the formation of the Society of American Indians, she had been involved in several national Native issues. At the inaugural meeting of the sai, Kellogg proclaimed, “I am not the new Indian; I am the old Indian adjusted to new conditions” (sai 92). In a speech at the 1913 sai Annual Meeting, she argued explicitly for the value of an “Indian” identity that relied on the knowledge of her elders, stating, “there are old Indians who have never seen the inside of a classroom whom I consider far more educated than the young Indian with his knowledge of Latin and algebra” (“Some Facts...

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