Skip to main content

Tribal Philanthropy: Oneida Nation's giving grows

ONEIDA NATION HOMELANDS, N.Y. - The Oneida Indian Nation's philanthropy outreach took a quantum leap in 2002, with donations and contributions that reflect the Nation's commitment both to its neighbors and to all of Indian country.

Through the Oneida Nation Foundation, the Nation continues to take advantage of opportunities to share its resources on the local and national levels - from the donation of a 22-passenger bus to a local non-profit group to a $10 million pledge toward construction of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.

Although the scope of the Nation's giving has broadened significantly, the foundation's mission remains the same: to promote education, understanding and a higher quality of life for Oneida members, American Indians and the greater community.

"The only thing that has changed, really, is the size of the community," said Chuck Fougnier, chairman of the Oneida Nation Foundation and Wolf Clan representative to the Oneida Nation's Men's Council. "We are committed to Central New York because this is our ancestral home. But we are part of Indian country and the global community as well, and thanks in large part to our economic development initiatives, we are in a position to play an active role in those areas."

The foundation was created in 2000 to provide a formal structure for the Nation's charitable and civic giving. In its first year, the foundation increased the Nation's giving from about $75,000 to more than $460,000. In 2002, the foundation gave or pledged more than 26 times that much to a broad range of programs and services in Central New York and around the country.

The Smithsonian pledge was part of the financing needed to complete the new National Museum of the American Indian, currently under construction on the National Mall in Washington scheduled to open in 2004. The Oneida Nation decided to lend its support to the museum because of its emphasis on presenting American Indian cultures and stories from the Native viewpoint.

"The museum is going to be a national treasure unlike anything else on the Mall, and it can tell the stories of Indigenous people to a much bigger audience than any American Indian tribe can reach on its own," Fougnier said. "This is a collective resource - not just for American Indians and scholars, but for all people of all ethnic backgrounds to see our stories and learn about our cultures. We're very proud to be a part of this and to leave that legacy for future generations."

The Nation is also building a legacy of educational opportunity for its own members, for schoolchildren in Central New York, and for American Indians across the country. To help its members achieve their educational goals, the Nation offers scholarships and incentives through the post-doctorate level. To promote high-quality elementary and secondary education for children in Central New York, the Nation established its Silver Covenant Chain Education Grant program, which has provided more than $4 million in grants to seven area school districts since 1996.

In 2002, the Oneida Nation Foundation expanded its educational outreach by donating $20,000 to the American Indian College Fund to endow scholarships specifically for American Indian students majoring in film, television and new media arts. The foundation will increase the endowment to $25,000 by adding $1,000 to the fund each year for the next five years.

Richard Williams, executive director of college funds for the American Indian College Fund, said the commitment and support of American Indian tribes is crucial to the organization's success.

"Education truly is the equalizer in America. Every step we can take to provide educational opportunities for our children secures our future," Williams said. "Every way we can promote true cultural understanding preserves our heritage."

The Oneida Nation Foundation has been careful not to support national programs at the expense of local needs. It still donates $500 to the annual food and toy drive organized by Dinah Fuller, a floor clerk at the Oneida Nation's High Stakes Bingo hall, and it still matches up to $2,000 of the funds employees raise during the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.

The foundation also helps area organizations satisfy special one-time needs where possible. In 2002, Fougnier and Nation Transportation Director Mike West arranged to donate a 22-pasenger bus, formerly used to shuttle employees and patrons at the Nation's Turning Stone Casino Resort, to Madison-Cortland ARC. ARC provides transportation and other services to developmentally challenged individuals, allowing them to hold jobs and lead productive and fulfilling lives.

"This represents about $130,000 that we didn't have to spend to purchase a bus, and that's $130,000 that we didn't have to divert from our program funding," ARC Executive Director Raymond Lewandowski said. "It really is a blessing."

Other local programs supported by the foundation include a $10,000 initiative with the Great Swamp Conservancy to restore sweetgrasss and black ash populations on Nation lands; a $2,000 donation to the Children's Museum of History, Natural History, Science and Technology in Utica, N.Y. and numerous contributions to youth recreation programs, area historical societies, veterans groups, health and education organizations and chambers of commerce.

"Our philosophy always has been to enhance the quality of life for our members and neighbors. Centuries ago, our ancestors did it by sharing their resources of food and shelter," Fougnier said. "Today, we do it through the Oneida Nation Foundation. It allows us to continue our tradition of making meaningful contributions to the betterment of the community."

Courtesy of Eagle Newspapers, Madison County Editions