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Tribal Historical Overview - Treaties 1

Intro | Migration | Contact | Move to Plains | Treaties 1 |
Treaties 2 | Early Reservation Life | Early 1900s |
Self Determination | Trenton Indian Service Area

Treaties 1

The history of treaty-making began with European countries, mainly Great Britain. The premise for making treaties had established precedence in 200 years of British law in America. These laws recognized aboriginal title (original ownership) and the inherent rights attached to it. When the first colonists arrived in Massachusetts and Virginia, they were in desperate need of necessities including land to build their homes and communities. In order to obtain land, they made formal and informal agreements with the Indian tribes who occupied the land. This process was acknowledged and encouraged when the United States formed. The colonists, and then the government, adopted the practice of negotiating formal treaties with Indian tribes. In doing so, they upheld inherent rights attendant to ownership in land. In a series of proclamations and ordinances codified during 1783, 1786, and 1787, the Continental Congress defined the central role between Indian nations and the central government. The 1787 Northwest Ordinance held that:

The utmost good faith shall always be observed
toward 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 wrong being done to them, and for
preserving peace and friendship with them.
(Utter,
1993, p. 245)

The United States Constitution, ratified in 1789, confirmed the federal role in Indian policy by assigning Congress the authority to involve itself in Indian Affairs. The Commerce Clause (Article I, section 2, clause 3) and the Treaty Clause (Article II, section 2, clause 2) of the United States Constitution granted authority to the United States government to enter into treaties with Indian tribes. The first treaty made with the United States was with the Delawares in 1778. After that time, 370 treaties were entered into between American Indian tribes and the United States. Through the treaty process the United States acquired lands and legal [trust] responsibilities. (Pevar, 1995, p. 37) The tribes ceded lands and obtained federal commitments for annuities, provisions for education, and other forms of compensation in return. (Utter, 1993, p. 246)

Sweet Corn Treaty

In 1858, with the assistance of the U.S. government, the Chippewa and Dakota defined their boundaries within the Sweet Corn Treaty. The land defined as Chippewa land is described as:

Commencing at the mouth of the river Wahtab,
thence ascending its course and running through
Lake Wahtab: from thence taking a westerly course
and passing through the fork of the Sauk River:
thence running in a northerly direction through
Otter Tail Lake and striking the Red River at the
mouth of Buffalo River: thence following the course
of the Red River down to the mouth of Goose River:
thence ascending the course of Goose River up to
its source: after leaving the Lake, continuing its
western course to Maison au Chine: from thence
taking a northwesterly direction to its terminus at
a point on the Missouri River within gunshot sound
of Little River.

In the treaty between the Chippewa and Dakota, they agreed to abide by the boundaries, as well as allowing each other, in a neighborly manner, to hunt on each others land if game was scarce on either side. They also agreed that depredations by members of each tribe, such as stealing horses, needed to be dealt with, either by return of property, or repayment for damages. These articles were agreed upon 33 years earlier by the forefathers of these two tribes, Chief Waanatan (He Who Rushes On) for the Dakota, and Chief Emay das kah (Flat Mouth) for the Chippewa. To bind the treaty, oral history states that there was an exchange of tribal members. “We will not make war against our grandchildren” was a statement made by the treaty signers.

The United States government and settlers wanted to prove that the Chippewa did not hold aboriginal claim to the land that was intended to become their reservation. A Grand Council meeting was held between the Chippewa and Dakota at a point north of the Sheyenne River and west of Devils Lake in July of 1858. Chiefs involved in the signing of this treaty were Mattonwakan, Chief of the Yanktons, and La Terre Qui Purle, Chief of the Sisseton Band. Also signing was a large representation of braves and warriors of the Dakota Tribes. Representing the Chippewa was Chief Wilkie known as Narbexxa who was a well-respected follower of Little Shell.

Based on the documentation from the Sweet Corn Treaty, the Chippewa were able to claim 11 million acres of land that the government wanted for a public domain. The land described in the Sweet Corn Treaty was used later by the government and provided supportive documentation of Chippewa title in the Old Crossing Treaty and even later the McCumber Agreement.

Old Crossing Treaty

By 1863 the Chippewa occupied over one-third of what is now the State of North Dakota, including the Red River Valley. With the American philosophy of manifest destiny and the Homestead Act, settlers petitioned Washington to pressure government officials to make treaties with the Indians who had the rights to the land. The settlers recognized that the Red River Valley was a rich and fertile agricultural area.

On October 2, 1863, at the Old Crossing of the Red Lake River in Minnesota, the Chippewa Chiefs, headmen, and warriors of the Red Lake and Pembina Bands met with Alexander Ramsey and Ashley C. Morrill, Commissioners for the United States government. The purpose of the meeting was to obtain Chippewa land through the treaty process. The Chippewas were represented by the chiefs of Red Lake and Pembina. The Red Lake chiefs were: Monsomo (Moose Dung), Kaw-was-ke-ne-kay (Broken Arm), May-dwa-gum-on-ind (He That is Spoken To), and Leading Feather. The Chiefs of the Pembina Band were Ase-anse (Little Shell II) and Miscomukquah (Red Bear).

Chippewa Land Cessions
Chippewa Land Cessions in North Dakota. (Map by Cassie Theurer, adapted
from Schneider, 1994, page 139)

The Chippewa signed the treaty under protest. The government attained these 11 million acres of land and opened it up to white settlers. The land extended about 35 miles on either side of the Red River from the Canadian border to near present-day Fargo, North Dakota. The land was acquired at eight cents per acre. Ramsey was said to have stated: “No territorial acquisitions of equal intrinsic value have been made from the Indians at so low a rate per acre.”

Red River Uprising

After the Chippewa ceded the Red River Territory in the 1863 Old Crossing Treaty, the land to the south of the 49th parallel was opened as public domain lands. The Métis to the north of the boundary were being denied their land holdings on ancestral lands by the government of Canada. For more than fifty years, the Canadian Métis had made this northern territory their home. They had developed small river front settlements and began to use the land for agricultural purposes to supplement their livelihood. Prior to this time, many Métis had settled south of the international boundary line. In 1823, when Major Stephen H. Long surveyed the international boundary, he established that Pembina was in United States territory. The Métis had settled in Pembina because of its proximity to the trade routes, and the relationships they had established at the Pembina trading post. The Hudson Bay Company, on the other hand, was within the Canadian boundary. Because the Métis relied on the Hudson Bay Company as their market for trade goods, the Company was able to coerce many Métis traders to move north across the international boundary into Canadian jurisdiction.

In 1865, the Métis were discontent. The Red River Métis were aware their land holdings were in jeopardy. The Canadian government would not listen to their grievances. No longer satisfied, the Métis joined together, under the leadership of Louis Riel, Jr., and rebelled against the Dominion of Canada. Canada was in the process of becoming its own country. The Hudson Bay Company had just surrendered title to these lands. In addition, Canada, at this time, was legally without a government. Riel developed a “Bill of Rights” and he and his supporters formed a provisional government in November of 1869, to represent the Métis. Riel also developed a list of grievances that would benefit Canadian, English, American, and Indian people alike. The document provided for religious, cultural, language, and land rights. Riel, and his supporters, formally declared the establishment of a provisional government in November of 1869, and demanded rights as loyal citizens of the Crown.

The situation got out of control for Riel and his followers. The provisional government took hostile locals as prisoners and one of them was executed. The opposing Canadian officials and the new Governor of Canada, commissioned troops and forced Riel and his armed followers to flee for their lives. Although the “Bill of Rights” Riel developed was implemented by the Canadian government and known as the Manitoba Act, Riel and his supporters were not granted amnesty for their actions. Louis Riel was exiled from the Canada for five years.

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