Treaties | Ruth A. Myers Center for Indigenous Education
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Required Profile of Learning
To achieve a diploma a student must show an appropriate level of achievement in each of the following elements.
Understand what they read, bear and see. Comprehending, interpreting, and evaluating information received through reading, listening, and viewing;
Write and speak effectively. Writing and speaking in English clearly for academic, technical, and personal purposes with a variety of audiences;
Gather and use information. Applying methods of inquiry needed to conduct research, draw conclusions, and communicate and apply findings;
Understand interactions between people, their world and their cultures. Understanding how principles of interaction and interdependence affect physical and social situations;
Make informed decisions. Applying informed decisionmaking processes to promote personal growth and the wellbeing of society;
Know how to manage a household or business. Understanding the effective management of resources in a household, business, community, and government.
Students will be able to:
- analyze past and current treaties, agreements, Congressional Acts and their effects on Minnesota–based American Indians.
This outcome includes:
- understanding why and how treaties were made.
- discovering impact of earlier treaties and agreements on contemporary life.
- investigating treaties specific to Minnesota,
- explaining what treaties are and how they function.
All students should learn that the Constitution, treaties, laws and court decisions have consistently recognized the unique political relationship between Indian tribes and the U.S. Federal Government. A treaty is a legal agreement between two or more sovereign nations.
Article 4, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states that "all treaties made under the authority of the United States shall be the Supreme Law of the Land"– and judges in every state shall be bound" when a treaty is made to consider treaty law as a higher law than state law. It is important that all students learn the history of treaties in order to develop an objective perspective on contemporary issues. This knowledge will enable students to become purposeful thinkers and to function as responsible citizens.
Cultural Content/American Indian World View
American Indian nations made formal binding agreements with each other before other European nations began making treaty agreements with them. Most often they were verbal agreements made in the presence of tribal members at intertribal gatherings. The spoken word carried with it the obligation to tell the truth and keep one´s word. Sometimes these agreements were recorded, as in the case of the wampum belts of the Iroquois Confederacy. Many of the treaties made between the U.S. government and American Indian nations transferred Indian lands to federal government ownership. The American Indian leaders who signed these treaties held a very different concept of the land than did the government agents who negotiated the treaties, In Euro–American belief, the land and all that grows and exists upon the land were seen as resources or commodities which could be bought and sold, and in the case of land, could be privately owned. In American Indian belief, the land is shared by all. The Earth is not viewed as a commodity which could be divided by imaginary lines and then bought and sold. American Indian nations did not believe in outright ownership but only that families within the nation had the right to use hunting and fishing grounds, maple sugar camps, wild rice areas, or sections of land cleared for planting.
Teacher Background Information
The treaties made with American Indian Nations by the federal government recognized these nations as sovereign nations. In the treaties, American Indian tribes never gave up their right to exist as nations and form their own governments. American Indian tribes today must be understood as nations within the nation of the United States. Sovereignty is the ability to make decisions without outside interference.
The accurate history of Minnesota must be understood by all students in all schools. All of the land in Minnesota was gained by the United States through a series of treaties with Anishinabe and Dakota sovereign nations. Sixteen treaties and four agreements applied to American Indians of Minnesota. In order to understand issues of treaties, sovereignty or rights, one must first understand these very basic premises:
- No great war took these lands from American Indians.
- No American Indian leader gave Minnesota to the United States.
- The nations of Anishinabe and Dakota made concessions as to specific land uses by the United States. These concessions were clearly to benefit the people who wanted to establish businesses and homes on Indian lands. The United States was then obligated to provide items spelled out in these treaties.
- Anishinabe and Dakota nations clearly maintain any and all rights not specifically mentioned in the contracts.
- The British and Dutch were the first European nations to make treaties with American Indian nations. These early treaties recognized American Indian tribes as sovereign nations. Tribal sovereignty has not been understood; therefore a prevalent concern among American Indian scholars is to present an accurate history. When the United States was organized as a nation, government officials continued the practice of making treaty agreements with American Indian nations whenever land boundaries needed to be clarified or when the government wanted American Indian lands.
- In August of 1786 Congress passed an "Ordinance for the Regulation of Indian Affairs." Responsibility for relations with the tribes was given to the secretary of war, who was to appoint regional superintendents. Among their duties were licensing and supervision of all traders. By this and other legislation Congress also reserved to itself the fixing of boundaries and purchase of lands. Later laws strengthened and expanded the application of the ordinance, and its principles guided U.S. Indian policy for a century.
- Despite the regulations the pronouncements of the U.S. government were largely ignored. Encroachments continued and the trade regulations of the Ordinance were not followed. From November 25 to December 18, 1786 representatives from the Ojibwe, Huron, Ottawa, Twitchee, Shawnee, Cherokee, Delaware, and Potawatomi tribes as well as the Wabash Confederates met at Huron Village, near present–day Detroit. These councils produced an address signed by the chiefs and headmen of each tribe and presented to Congress. They requested a general treaty meeting asking the U.S. government to prevent surveyors and others from crossing the Ohio River and expressed a great desire for peace. This demonstration of American Indian concern made Congress aware that the rights of tribal people to their ancestral homes could not be ignored.
In the Northwest Ordinance of July 13, 1787, the Federal Government again stated its position:
"The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made, for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them."
This act (in which Minnesota, east of the Mississippi became part of the Northwest Territory) was one of the first legislative acts to directly affect American Indians. It recognized and undertook the protection of the sovereignty of Indian nations. It established several precedents which are the basis of Indian/U.S. relationships:
- The creation of a guardian–ward relationship between the United States government and the Indian tribes.
- Established the treaty–making process pursuant the U.S. Constitution.
- Recognized Indian title of occupancy and Indian aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 laid the foundation of westward expansion for the eventual non–Indian ownership and government of Indian land. The Act was a result of the many concerns presented to Congress by the Northwest tribes, and although history shows that the U.S. did administer a certain degree of faith toward Indian tribes, the commitments outlined in the Northwest Ordinance were never completely fulfilled.
–Information on the Northwest Ordinance from The Ojibway of Minnesota, Part I, researched and compiled by Dan Anderson.
From 1789 until 1871, the U.S. Government made hundreds of treaties with American Indian nations throughout the continent. The American Indian leaders who represented their people at treaty conferences usually agreed to cede large portions of their ancestral lands in return for services and a certain portion of these lands being set aside for the exclusive use of tribal members and their descendants. In no case did the U.S. Government give American Indians land. The American Indian reservations and tribal communities today represent the lands that tribal members retained for themselves. Many of the treaties also promised American Indian tribes certain services such as schools, medical care, food and clothing, farm tools and monetary compensation. For example in the Treaty of 1854, the Grand Portage Band on the Grand Portage Reservation negotiated money under Article 4 "to enable them to maintain a school at their village." A similar provision in the 1886 Treaty with the Chippewa Bois Forte Band provided for a school house and books.
Hunting and Fishing Rights
One example which directly affects Minnesota´s American Indians today is the Treaty of 1887. This Treaty was negotiated with several bands of the Anishinabe (Chippewa) living in Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. The Treaty stated that these band members and their descendants would be able to hunt, fish and harvest plants not only on the lands they reserved for themselves but also on the lands they ceded. This kind of agreement is not unusual even according to American property law. Called usufructuary rights, the right on the part of American Indian tribes to retain the privilege of hunting, fishing and gathering the wild rice, upon the lands ceded is similar to selling land but retaining the mineral rights. Federal Courts upheld the 1837 Treaty in Wisconsin in the 1980´s and in Minnesota in 1993. This allowed the Anishinabe to exercise their rights. Hence, in spite of the fact that treaty making ended in 1871, the treaties still have the force of law The Anishinabe have great difficulty, however, in exercising their treaty right to hunt, fish and harvest on ceded land because the treaty rights conflict with state law. In general federal courts have upheld American Indian treaty rights over state rights. Treaty rights cases will be heard in federal courts for many years to come.
Treaties and Loss of Land
One of the earliest treaties to affect Minnesota´s American Indians was the Pike Treaty of 1806. This Treaty allowed the federal government to claim a small section of land near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to build a military fort which became known as Fort Snelling. The 1825 Treaty of Prairie du Chien created a boundary between the Dakota to the south and the Ojibwe who lived in the woodland country to the north. Some Dakota bands negotiated treaties in the 1830´s but the treaty which most directly affected the Dakota land base was the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. According to the provisions of this Treaty, the Dakota agreed to cede most of their lands in southern Minnesota to the federal government except for narrow strips of land which ran along the Minnesota River. The improper behavior of federal agents who negotiated this Treaty led to a Senate investigation. The Treaty of 1851 is considered to be a monstrous conspiracy against the Dakota people.
After the U.S–Dakota Conflict of 1862, the U.S. Government rescinded all treaties made with the Dakota of Minnesota. Even Dakota bands who did not directly participate in the conflict were punished by having their treaty agreements rescinded. On December 26, 1862 the largest mass execution in U.S. history took place in Mankato. Thirty–eight Dakota men were hanged. Some Dakota families, who had assisted white settlers during this conflict, were allowed to stay in their homelands. Gradually, relatives who had fled to Dakota territory or who had been removed there, joined their families in Minnesota. The official status of these communities as Dakota tribal lands were recognized late in the 19th century through Congressional Acts or Proclamations of the Secretary of Interior.
The 1825 Treaty of Prairie du Chien and the 1826 Treaty of Fond du Lac affected the Anishinabe bands of Minnesota because they established a boundary between the Anishinabe and Dakota. The U.S. Government had a need to distinguish between Dakota and Anishinabe territories so they could negotiate further with each one. Until 1836, none of the treaties signed by these bands actually relinquished land to the federal government. But as mining and timber interests and land hungry settlers pushed westward, the government was pressured into negotiating new treaties with the Anishinabe. Large sections of Anishinabe lands were transferred to government ownership between 1836 and 1867. After acquiring most of the land, government agents pressured the Anishinabe to relinquish more land and move as one body to a land base which became known as the White Earth Reservation.
Many Anishinabe did move to White Earth, but others refused to leave their homes. The seven Anishinabe reservations in Minnesota were created though treaties. With the exception of the Red Lake bands, all Minnesota Anishinabe became affected by this policy.
The 1863 Treaty and the supplementary articles to the treaty were concluded in 1864 with the Red Lake and Pembina Bands. (Treaty attached). In 1864 the Red Lake and Pembina bands ceded the flat and fertile Red River Valley – some of the richest agricultural land in North America. This treaty was first signed in 1863 at a spot known as the "Old Crossing" on the Red Lake River. It was the last of many purchases of American Indian land negotiated by Governor Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota. Ramsey later boasted, "No territorial acquisition of equal intrinsic value have been made from the Indians at so low a rate per acre." Moreover, an exorbitant sum of $100,000 was allowed for traders´ claims against the tribe.
Congress passed a law in 1871 that ended the practice of making treaties and agreements with American Indian nations. However, the law also stated that all agreements made by previous treaties would be honored. In practice, the U.S. Government broke its promises in nearly every treaty it made.