ONEIDA, NY – A multi-generational group of Oneida Indian Nation children, parents and elders gathered to hold a topping ceremony for the Mary C. Winder Community Center. The 65,000 sq. ft. will be among the largest tribal centers of its kind when it opens during summer 2024 and will serve as the heart of the Oneida community.
During the topping ceremony, Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter inscribed a beam that will be part of the center’s construction with the words, “For the Oneida people now and unto the Seventh Generation,” a reminder that the community center will offer a welcoming home for the Oneida people for generations to come.
Named in honor of Mary C. Winder, the community center honors her tireless activism for the Oneida people’s land rights and the fair enforcement of government treaties. At just 22 years old and with little formal education, Winder began a lifetime crusade to win recognition for the Oneida Indian Nation’s right to thousands of acres of its ancestral lands that were guaranteed by the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. Throughout the years, these lands were stolen from the Oneida people through illegal treaties and sales until just 32 acres remained.
Even though she led a busy life as a mother, storekeeper, gardener, craftswoman, midwife and devoted neighbor and friend, Winder found time to take up a campaign to write letter after letter to the U.S. government over the course of 30 years. In these letters, she repeatedly asked the federal government to redress the egregious wrongs perpetrated against the Oneida Indian Nation and restore its ancestral lands. Although Winder died three years after the Oneida land claim was initially filed, it was eventually won by the nation, and the work she began to restore her people’s lands continues to this day.
The Mary C. Winder Community Center is among the Oneida Indian Nation’s many investments in the revitalization of its homelands and the preservation of its culture, creating a vibrant community for generations to come. When complete, the center will offer a host of amenities to support the physical, social and cultural well-being of nation members, including:
- Areas to host language and cultural programming and education
- Community gathering spaces
- A library
- Exhibit spaces
- A field house for lacrosse games and cultural events
- An accessible pool, children’s pool and spa
- A fitness center, running track and gymnasium
- A play area for children
- Conference and office spaces
Throughout, the Mary C. Winder Community Center will be infused with the rich legacy and traditions of the Oneida people. Broad wooden slats representing the threading of a wampum belt will greet visitors at the entrance, while the four elements will be incorporated into the center’s architecture. At the heart of the community center, a cultural core will include a feather-shaped skylight and a stone floor bearing the pattern of a snapping turtle’s shell to emphasize the nation’s connection to the earth and its Creator.
The Mary C. Winder Community Center has been created to provide community resources and preserve the cultural traditions of the Oneida people. It will also warmly welcome members of other tribal nations throughout Upstate New York and residents of local communities.