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Tribal Historical Overview - Treaties 2

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Treaties 2

1885 Resistance

Louis Riel became a United States citizen, married Margaret Monette, and was living in Montana in 1885 when he was approached by a group of Métis from Prince Albert, Canada, requesting his help. Riel again drafted a petition which listed the grievances of settlers and Métis. Again, the petition was ignored. After actual battles with the British, Louis Riel surrendered himself and was brought to trial. This man, who fought so hard for the rights of the Métis, was accused of being a traitor. Riel, a French Métis Catholic, was tried for committing acts of treason against Canada and found guilty by a jury of English Protestants. Riel was hung at Regina, Manitoba, in 1885. With the death of Riel, many of his followers fled to the Turtle Mountains to seek political refuge among relatives. This event created an influx of Métis to the Turtle Mountains. (Howard, 1994, pp.147–194

McCumber Agreement

Throughout the treaty era, the Indian people witnessed the inconsistent behavior of the United States government. They lived and witnessed the false hope of the Great White Father and were left with little or no land, and were poverty stricken. The trust between the Indians and the government had dissipated. The United States, following the civil war, could ill afford to continue treaty-making. As a result, the President established the Grants Peace Commission in 1868, and proposed a policy to make agreements with all of the tribal nations across the country. This policy was to bring about an end to the Indian wars on the plains, and to open the routes west for an ever-growing flood of emigrants. In 1871, Congress revised its policy of “treaty-making” and continued to negotiate, but called the process “agreements” rather than treaties. The era of making treaties was coming to an end.

The first agreement to be made with the Pembina Band of Chippewa was the McCumber Agreement. The Chippewa occupied the east and north central parts of North Dakota, a favorite hunting and wintering ground. The hunting and trapping lifestyle of the Chippewa kept them moving throughout the year. During their absence settlers began to occupy Chippewa lands. There were requests from settlers to remove the Indians from North Dakota. Politicians even refused to credit the Chippewa for their aboriginal title to the lands. The government attempted to move the Turtle Mountain Chippewa to White Earth in Minnesota, but because of the provisions in the Sweet Corn Treaty with the Dakota, the Chippewa claim remained valid.

Some of the people did move to White Earth. Little Shell III and his band stayed in the Turtle Mountains. White settlers, hungry for land, continued to encroach on Chippewa territory in the Turtle Mountains. In July of 1892, Little Shell III and his followers posted signs in the Turtle Mountains stating:

It is here forbidden to any white man to encroach upon this Indian land by settling upon it before a treaty being made with the American government.

Little Shell’s warning caused settlers to petition the government to open lands claimed by the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. By October of 1882, the Secretary of the Interior had opened up lands for settlement without negotiating with the Chippewa. When the government put the lands of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa into the public domain and began to issue homesteads to white settlers, a delegation of tribal members went to Washington. Their task was to petition the government and be recognized to their right to nearly 10 million acres of land in North Dakota.

Chief Little Shell III did not agree with the McCumber Agreement and refused to sign. Because of his refusal to sign, the government would not recognize Chief Little Shell and his Grand Council of 24 as hereditary leaders of the Band. Since they did not recognize Little Shell, U.S. Indian Agent John Waugh handpicked a council of 16 full-bloods and 16 mixed-bloods to meet with the Commissioners. This group has been referred to as the “Council of 32.” This process was all done while Little Shell was in Montana. During the absence of Little Shell, the second Chief, Red Thunder, presided over the 24 member council meeting. In this meeting they agreed to enlist John B. Bottineau as their attorney. They also decided that all the mixed-blood descendants were members of the band, an action that was agreed to by the more than 300 members present. In 1892, Red Thunder addressed the McCumber Commission:

When you (white men) first put your foot upon this land of ours, you found no one but the red man and the Indian woman by whom you have begotten a large family. Pointing to the half-breeds present, he said: “Those are the children and descendants of that woman, they must be recognized as members of this tribe.” (Executive Orders of 1882 and 1884)

One of the provisions of the McCumber Agreement required a census to be taken. McCumber’s agent reported small numbers (about 25 full-blood families) were living in the Turtle Mountain areas. Because of the way the rolls were taken, many were not fairly represented. Little Shell and his followers were excluded from the rolls, leaving a total of 520 people stricken from the rolls. Little Shell and Red Thunder protested this action. Many of the people who were removed from the roll moved to Montana.

Little Shell Protest, 1892

In the early 1880s, there was severe drought and several brutal winters. Many people starved. The McCumber Commission of September 21, 1892, was attended by P.J. McCumber, John Wilson, and W. W. Flemming at the Turtle Mountain Indian Agency. They met with Agent Waugh and his “handpicked committee of 32,” who had not been agreed upon or recognized by the Turtle Mountain Band. The purpose of the meeting was to negotiate with the Turtle Mountain people on the cession and relinquishment of lands claimed by them, and to determine the number entitled to be listed on the rolls. (Act of Congress, Chapter 164, p. 139, 52nd Congress, 1st Session)

The meetings were held at the agency storehouse, which was inadequate in size. After Agent Waugh and his group were inside only enough room was left for about one-fourth of the tribe to be present. Those that were present were obstructed by partitions and supplies. As a result, the proceedings were difficult to hear or understand.

Upon their arrival at the meeting, Little Shell and his council were informed they were not invited and their people would not be fed. Waugh apologized to the commission saying that the Indians misunderstood his letter to them. However, his letter, in fact, stated the commission would be at the agency to meet with them. Little Shell and his followers were turned away, and told that if they had anything to do, they had better do it. Little Shell left the meeting.

John B. Bottineau, attorney for the Turtle Mountain Band, reported to Little Shell the action of the Commission regarding enrollment. The commission turned away many members of the band who were starving. Many desolate, starving people returned home. In spite of their pitiful condition, they took a collection amongst themselves to allow Little Shell and his council to represent them at the proceedings.

Little Shell addressed the Commission asking that Reverend Father J. F. Malo, their Catholic Priest, Bottineau, their attorney, and Judge Burke of Rolette County, to be present on their behalf. The Commission allowed their presence, and Little Shell expressed his hope for a successful settlement of both parties. He then introduced Red Thunder to the commission. In Red Thunder’s address, he told of the inclusion of the mixed-bloods as members of their tribe and described the suffering of his people. In his concluding statements he said:

“We are all glad that our Great Father sent you here and we hope that you will relieve us from starvation, for we have nothing to eat.”

The Commission justified not feeding the people by stating that the Chippewa misunderstood Major Waugh’s letter and he would only feed those selected by the United States government. The Committee suggested that Little Shell stay and help with the rolls. However, Little Shell and his followers left, designating attorney Bottineau to act in their behalf. Bottineau, realizing a great injustice had been done concerning the rolls, requested the commission to give him a list of those excluded from the list, to appeal for them. They never provided him the information. Instead, they hung a list of people rejected from the roll on the church doors on September 24, 1892. Bottineau then requested access to the rolls. The commission agreed, but E. W. Brenner, Farmer in Charge, refused to provide access to Bottineau, only giving numbers of those eligible and numbers of those rejected.

Little Shell was unwilling to give up. He gathered lists from each family containing their family members, so they would be considered for the rolls. One hour before the next meeting of the Commission, they ordered that Little Shell withdraw from the reservation, or they would arrest him. They astonished the people. They felt the absence of Little Shell and Bottineau would be disastrous. In unison they shouted:

“You shall not go” meaning that their attorney Bottineau, should not go, some going so far as to utter, “This is death to us; better meet it now than starve to death.”

After a discussion between Little Shell, his council, Bottineau, and Judge Burke, it was decided they should leave. Waugh’s committee of thirty-two accepted the terms of the agreement. The tribe as a whole did not recognize this Committee. In customary fashion, the Chief appointed the council. Because they did not recognize the committee of thirty-two, they had no right to handle the affairs of the tribe. Upon conclusion of the meetings, the committee of thirty-two realized the grave mistake they had made and reported this to Little Shell. They knew what was taking place but offered no alternative to the situation.

On October 24, 1892, Chief Little Shell and his councilmen filed a protest with Congress against the ratification of the proposed McCumber Agreement. With the assistance of Bottineau, J.B. Ledeqult, special interpreter, and Judge John Burke, the protest outlined the grievances of the Turtle Mountain people. They disagreed with the government’s negotiations with the committee of thirty-two, who were not the recognized Grand Council of the Band. They also protested to the inappropriate conditions of the meeting place, and the threats by Agent Waugh of removing them from their lands. The payment of the settlement was also considered inadequate. It discriminated against the Chippewa. Other treaties and tribes were getting anywhere from .50 cents to $2.50 per acre. In addition, non-Indian lands were valued even higher. The proposed ten cents per acre was unacceptable. Lastly, the agreement lacked sufficient assistance for education of the children. Congress never considered Little Shell’s protest.

Chippewa Tribal Police, 1900
Chippewa Tribal Police, circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of the State
Historical Society of North Dakota, 1660)

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