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Traditional weddings return to the Oneida longhouse

Photo courtesy Stephanie Stevens

Newlyweds Kateri and Jeremy Wheelock at the Oneida longhouse following their traditional wedding February 22, 2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how entire nations and their people live their lives on a global scale. The impact felt throughout numerous First Nations is even more palpable given Indigenous populations are more susceptible to the damaging effects of infection, leading to the discontinuation of many traditional activities. Recently however, lower infection rate numbers in Wisconsin has allowed the Oneida longhouse to once again hold traditional weddings.

The first wedding ceremony at the longhouse since the onset of the pandemic took place February 22, 2022. Oneida Nation citizens Kateri and Jeremy Wheelock were thrilled to have their traditional vision come to fruition. “There is a belief that what takes place in the longhouse is what is taking place simultaneously in Sky World,” Kateri said. “Having our marriage in the longhouse was an ultimate act of commitment. Having it there meant this was the way it was meant to be not just on Earth but according to Shukway^tisu (our Creator) as well.”

Certain traditional requirements were met by the new couple prior to the ceremony. “My fiancé spoke with his Wolf Clan Faithkeeper to get his name, which is what Shukway^tisu knows him as,” Kateri said. “Once that was established we chose our date of 2/22/22. We wanted it in 2022 so that allowed us time to plan it out. Plus my lucky number has always been 2, so we looked that date up on the calendar and it was a Tuesday, so the rest was history. Plus the mask mandates were being lifted at the same time and we thought that would be a great chance to not have to deal with COVID at all.”

Oneida Nation Chief Bob Brown and Wolf Clan Faithkeeper Leander Danforth conducted the closed ceremony, the traditional nature of which is non-disclosable. “The wedding was very special because it is us, who we are,” Kateri said. “It was beautiful to be married in such a way and felt more special because of this reason.”

The ceremony, the first traditional wedding the couple has witnessed, was everything they had hoped for. “We were very intimidated for this reason, but I think it ultimately helped us because we didn’t have any expectations,” Kateri said. “We knew COVID, the weather, day of the week, and other variables were going to be factors in the attendance of the ceremony. But we received assurances from Bob that even if it was just the three of us the ceremony was taking place.”

Becoming a married couple through traditional means comes with a heavy responsibility. “A traditional marriage is not be taken lightly,” Kateri said. “An American marriage is rescindable in the eyes of their laws. This is not. This might be easy for me to say, all of one month later, but we could’ve opted for any other type of wedding but we chose this way. This is it. There is no “divorce,” only responsibilities to each other now. As it happened here on Earth, so it did in Sky World. So, when our time comes to cross, we’ll have that commitment carry over with us as well.”

A feast followed the ceremony, where the newlyweds expressed their gratitude to all that contributed to their day. “Because of the restrictive nature of the attendance, there were so many gifting people that helped make our day special who weren’t able to attend and weren’t able to hear our praises and our yaw^kos. A special yaw^ko to the talented Wanda Anton for sewing our companion outfits. We truly fit together. Along with Lexi Sickles, my new sister Jaime Wheelock, Kendrick Powless, and Keisha Belisle for their talented beading as well,” Kateri said.

“Another special yaw^ko to our baskets maker Yunuhsanunha (Michelle) Hill, as baskets were exchanged rather than rings as part of the ceremony, and other artists that helped make my family’s outfits including Crystal Cornelius, Dionne Jacobs, and Peril Huff.

“Mirac Ellis was also a tremendous help in learning the finer details of a longhouse wedding, yaw^ko to Gotsy Thomas for making our meal, and Stephen and Becky Webster for providing strawberry cornbread, another must for longhouse feasts,” Kateri said. “Tsyoshaaht Delgado was a tremendous help before, during, and after the ceremony. Along with Mirac, they kept the longhouse warm the night before and morning of our special day.”

“Last but surely not least was my lifelong best friend Kristy Cornelius and the rest of the Cornelius clan. Kristy would always ask Larry and Joylynn to tote me along with their family to the longhouse when I was just a young, curious girl,” Kateri said. “They always made sure to bring an extra dish and utensils for me in their baskets for after the ceremonies. They truly were my model family and the real reason this was all possible for me in the first place. Had it not been for their exemplification of a healthy ukweheuwe:ne family, it may not have been possible at all.”