Review – MHC Why Treaties Matter Website

 Why Treaties Matter traveling exhibit and websites
Minnesota Humanities Center
Reviewed on May 20, 2013
Updated on March 17, 2016

Items of Interest

Text from the first panel of the traveling exhibit:

            Treaties are agreements between self-governing, or sovereign, nations. The story of Native nations within Minnesota is the story of making treaties – from the time before Europeans came to this land, through treaty making with the United States, to the growth of tribal self-determinations in our time.
            A collaboration of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, this project is funded in part with money from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created with a vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008, and The Patrick and Aimee Butler Family Foundation.

Included in this review are items related to the “Why Treaties Matter” traveling exhibit. I review only Dakota history found on the following websites:


Why Treaties Matter – Program Development

Absent Narratives Resource Collection

Why Treaties Matter Traveling Exhibit
[Search on Why Treaties Matter – View Exhibit Banners 1 through 20]

Why Treaties Matter Exhibit Homepage

Companion Website – About

Companion Website – Relationships: Dakota and Ojibwe Treaties

Companion Website – Treaties

Dakota and Ojibwe – U.S. Treaties Today – (American Indian Treaties Homepage)

General Comments

  • Unbalanced – I do not see Minnesota Humanities representing the white ethnic groups that were involved in the Dakota War of 1862.
  • Unbalanced – It appears that all speakers are members of Indian communities. I do not see any representatives of the State or U.S. governments.
  • I do not see any mention that the Dakota migrated into Minnesota.
  • I see very little mention of the warfare between the Dakota and Ojibwe. The Ojibwe drove the last of the Dakota out of northern Minnesota.
  • I see very little mention of warfare between the Dakota and Ojibwe and other tribes. As the Dakota migrated out of northern Minnesota, they displaced other tribes.
  • Some of the more complicated concepts need more attention.
  • Speakers often are not identified.
  • It appears that “the Dakota” were the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton bands.

Most Objectionable Statements

There are seven Ojibwe and four Dakota reservations in Minnesota. In the 19th century, the tribes signed treaties with the United States that recognized their status as self-governing nations.
—Incorrect – In signing treaties, the U.S. recognized them as sovereign nations. But, they were only as soveign as the U.S. permitted them to be.

Our sovereignty is not something that anyone gave to us, or can take away. It is inherent: something Indian tribes have by virtue of the fact that we existed long before there were places called the United States or Minnesota.
—Yes, tribes and tribal governments existed before the United States. But, the U.S. chose and chooses to recognize tribes. Many Indian communities have not received federal recognition.

Many Dakota trace their origins to the junction of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers…The region surrounding the confluence of the rivers, including the Falls of St. Anthony, is sacred to many Dakota as a place of their emergence into the world. In the Dakota language, this place is called Bdote, “where the two waters come together.”
—Incorrect – The identification of this region as a place of creation is relatively recent. For many years prior to this, Mille lacs Lake was the Dakota place of creation.
—For more information on the word Bdote see “Definitions” on the top bar.

For Native peoples, treaties were about establishing peace and friendship and preserving tribal homelands in an ever-changing world.
—Incorrect – For many Dakota, treaties were also a way to prevent starvation. See below.

The Pike Treaty of 1805…negotiated by Lt. Zebulon M. Pike and seven Dakota chiefs, allowed the United States to claim a section of land near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers…Fort Snelling was built on this land in 1819…
—Incorrect – Land was also obtained at the mouth of the St. Croix River.
—Incorrect – Construction of Fort Snelling started in 1820.

Signing treaties was sometimes the only way for Native leaders to keep their people alive. By 1837, the fur trade had declined and tribes were struggling to keep their economics afloat. As a last resort, tribes sold land through treaties in order to supply their people with money and food.
—Good statement!

Relegated to reservations through treaties with the United States, Native people faced diminished homelands and food resources, and became increasingly dependent on government payments and provisions.
—Incorrect – In signing the 1851 and 1858 treaties, Dakota leaders agreed that their people would learn to farm as the whites.
—Incorrect – By 1862, some 250 Dakota families were on farms while many others were waiting to become farmers. These Dakota chose farming. They continued to hunt and gather.

Corruption ran deep among Indian agents, who often lined their pockets with treaty payments and provisions.
—Disrespectful – Name the corrupt agents and show proof.

Dakota people believed the government would live up to its agreements. Instead, broken treaties resulted in hunger, distress, and desperation.
—Incorrect – Other factors, such as weather also contributed to their situation in 1862. Not all were hungry, in distress or in desperation.

[Photo] – In 1858, this delegation of Sisseton and Wahpeton Dakota signed a treaty that allotted their tribal lands on the Minnesota River. In the preceding 21 years, the Dakota relinquished nearly 24 million acres of land through treaties with the United States.
—Incorrect – Some say about 35 million acres were ceded.
—What does this mean? – “allotted their tribal lands”

Dakota Chief Little Crow…knew his people were suffering, yet he also knew…war could have dire consequences. Should he lead his warriors in a battle for survival? Or should he counsel peace and risk losing the support of his young warriors?
—Incorrect – About 100-150 young Dakota warriors made the decision for war. A majority of the Dakota leaders opposed war and were not involved in this decision. Little Crow could not overturn the decision for war.

Protecting Loved Ones: The Dakota War of 1862

In 1862, land loss, hunger, and deprivation fueled unrest among the Dakota. Three treaties signed over the previous 11 years had reduced their land base, which severely restricted their access to food and other resources.
—Incorrect – 4 treaties had been signed.
—Incorrect – The causes of the Dakota War were many and more complicated than this.
—Incorrect – How can going to war and killing more than 650 whites be called “protecting loved ones?”
—Incorrect – They were not confined to their reservations as this implies. Settlers began competing with Dakota for food on the ceded land which reduced their food supply.

When treaty payments failed to arrive in 1862, hungry Dakota appealed to traders to sell them food on credit. Andrew Myrick, a representative of the traders, replied, “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.” The Dakota, betrayed and desperate, reacted to save their loved ones.
—Incorrect – Traders had been giving credits until they learned that many Dakota planned to refuse to pay their debts when the treaty money arrived. This is why Myrick was angry. Not all traders stopped giving credits.
—Incorrect – The Dakota did not feel betrayed and desperate. Out of a group of about 1500 able-bodied Dakota men spread over a wide territory, 100-150 made the decision for war.
—Incorrect – How can war be a way to “save their loved ones?”

On August 17, 1862, four young Dakota men, returning from a hunting expedition, killed five settlers near Acton. Angered by a string of broken treaty promises and the loss of their territories, Dakota warriors chose to defend their lifeways in battle. Led by Chief Little Crow, who had advocated peace, the Dakota attacked traders and homesteaders, killing some 500 people.
—Incorrect – They killed 5 settlers in Acton Township.
—Incorrect – It is not possible to state why they killed these settlers
—Incorrect – They attacked more than traders and homesteaders.
—Incorrect – They killed more than 650 whites.
—Unbalanced – About 145 Dakota were killed in the war.

Dakota Chief Little Crow to Charles E. Mix, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1858.
“If I were to give you an account of all the money that…you sent but which never reached us, it would take all night to tell it.”
—Unbalanced – The author uses quotes to justify this war. Where are the quotes from the friendly Dakota who opposed war?

The Dakota faced revenge, punishment, and exile after the uprising of 1862. The United States nullified all of their treaties, sold their tribal lands, and redirected treaty payments to settlers who clamored for war reparations. Although most Dakota people were banished from the state, some returned to rebuild their communities in their traditional homelands.
—Incorrect – Dakota descendants were paid in the 1970s for land and annuities taken in 1863.

When the war of 1862 ended, Dakota women, children and elders were rounded up and forced-marched to a prison camp near Fort Snelling among these were Chief Little Crow’s wife and two children, shown here.
—Incorrect – There were also young Dakota men in this group.
—Incorrect – They were not forced-marched.
—Incorrect – This was not a prison camp.
—Incorrect – If this was Little Crow’s wife, she was one of his wives.

After the war of 1862, a military tribunal convicted 323 Dakota men of crimes committed during the conflict. During swift trials, 303 men were sentenced to death. President Abraham Lincoln stayed the execution of most of the condemned, but upheld the death sentences for 38 men. Those Dakota were hanged in Mankato on December 26, 1862, in the largest mass execution in American history.
—Unbalanced – Where is the discussion on the Dakota trial system? Had they broken through the barricades at Fort Ridgely, there would have been no trials; they would have killed everybody.
—Incorrect – It was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.

In the 1880s, U.S. policy makers viewed reservation land, used in common by tribal members, as an obstacle to “civilizing” Indians. To hasten assimilation the government divided reservations into parcels for allotment to individual tribal members, with remaining land sold to non-Indians.
—Incorrect – Allotments were made on the Dakota reservations following the Treaty of 1858 for all who wanted to be farmers.
—Unbalanced – Weren’t there any Dakota who favored this?
—Is this correct? Didn’t the Dakota vote to sell their land to non-Indians?

By imposing the concept of private property on tribal communities, the government’s policy broke deep Native connections to the land and laid the foundation for the loss of tribal territories.
—What would have been the better solution?

By the 1930s, Indians owned less than 10 percent of the White Earth Reservation, 4 percent of the Leech Lake Reservation, and 7 percent of the Mille Lacs Reservation.
—Wasn’t one of the causes of this, that once they received ownership of their allotted land, many chose to sell their land?

Although states have attempted to exert power over relations with tribal governments, Congress has the ultimate authority.
—Good statement! Many do not realize this.

[Making treaties] is like playing Monopoly and they make the rules.
—Unbalanced – Compare this to how the Dakota and Ojibwe obtained land; they killed members of other tribes and took their land.

The Mdewakanton have been here for hundreds of years.
The option to treaties was war, annihilation or total removal.
—Good statements!

In the 1851 Treaties…Dakota reservations were “to be held by them as Indian lands are held.” By the 1851 treaties, Dakota land was “allotted in severalty to each head of a family.”
—In the 1851 Treaties, the Dakota were not given ownership of their reservations.
—Incorrect – Land was allotted if the family chose to become farmers.

Allotment was intended to make traditional American Indian land use impossible, to be replaced by farming. In most of the land cession treaties, at least part of the compensation for selling land was provided in assistance for farming: “breaking the soil” at U.S. expense, seeds and implements, farming consultants.
—Incorrect – In my opinion, as ceded lands filled up with settlers tradition land use become impossible for many Dakota.

An important side affect of this development was that individuals could be defrauded of their land more easily than entire communities could be.
—On the Lake Traverse Reservation, land could not be sold until the resident was issued a patent. Selling land after receiving a patent was their right.

Because the traditional Ojibwe and Dakota relationship with the land was essentially a spiritual one, the U.S. also expended time and money on replacing traditional spiritual practices with Christianity.
—Incorrect – Missionaries to the Dakota received some money from the U.S. Christianizing the Dakota was not a way to break their spiritual bonds with the land. Christian Dakota chose to become Christians.

At the beginning of the treaty-making era, Dakota people controlled the fur trade in much of the “Upper Midwest.”
—Incorrect – Ojibwe and other tribes were also involved in the fur trade.

[In the 1851 Treaties, the Dakota] ceded 16,000,000 acres to the U.S., in exchange for payments that were diverted to a large extent to their white relatives.
—Incorrect – This number has been estimated to be as high as 35,000,000 acres.
—Incorrect – The larger part of this money was not diverted to their white relatives. Money was taken to pay debts owed to the traders, who included Dakota, mixed-bloods and whites.

As American traders became land speculators and timber barons, their business interests replaced their family obligations in shaping U.S.-Indian relations. Family ties with American Indians became, for American businesses, a way to engineer land cessions from Dakota and Ojibwe leaders, many of whom still assumed that relatives would take their best interests into account. In the long series of broken promises that mark U.S.-Indian relations, some of the most tragic involve the betrayal of family obligations by American businessmen who benefited materially from the impoverishment of their relatives.
—Incorrect – Not all traders became land speculators and timber
—This is a complex subject. More details need to be provided.

Traditional Dakota and Ojibwe economies were built to ensure communal, rather than individual benefits. This cultural value survived through the treaty making era, despite U.S. pressures to adopt new models for economic activity in which individual material gain is the goal.
—I disagree. European ancestry probably contained the same communal structures. They learned that individual land ownership was the best way to survive. Many Dakota turned to farming during and after the Minnesota reservation era. They could not survive by hunting and gathering alone. This author is critical of the U.S. but offers no solutions.

Dakota leader Little Crow established a fur trade company in his home village of Kaposia, in which the profits were broadly distributed. (The company was forced out of business by U.S. insistence on trade monopolies for U.S.-licensed fur traders.) This effort was undertaken at a time when the U.S. was distributing farms, houses, and annuity payments to individual Dakota and Ojibwe leaders in the treaty-make process, hoping to encourage a change in cultural values.
—Incorrect – Kaposia was prior to the 1851 Treaties. Placing Dakota on farms did not start in earnest until the later 1850s.

In 1827, the American Fur Company (AFC) achieved a monopoly on the fur trade in what is now Minnesota. The Company suddenly increased its prices by 300 percent; American Indians, returning from the hunt with expectations of trading for their yearly supplies, found themselves cast into a debt cycle that would increase in the decades ahead. American Indians would receive virtually unlimited credit as long as they maintained the most precious collateral: land.
—Is this correct? Did prices increase by 300 percent?
—The Dakota chose to kill off their fur-bearing animal food supplies to exchange their furs for fur trade goods. They chose to obtain goods on credit.
—More needs to be said from the fur trade viewpoint.

In 1837, economically stressed Dakota and Ojibwe people began selling land in what became Minnesota. Fur traders, through their political connections, were able to divert government payments for American Indian land into their own pockets. In effect, land cession treaties became a vast government bailout of fur trade corporations.
—Full blood and mixed blood Dakota as well as whites were fur traders.
—Shouldn’t the debts owed to the fur traders be paid?

Blacksmiths, mill operators, teachers, missionaries, farmers and other personnel were given positions paid by the government through various treaty articles. These employees joined Indian agents, subagents, special agents, supervisors and commissioners in an extensive bureaucracy that controlled — and often diverted — federal funds.
—Disrespectful – Show proof that employees on the Dakota reservations were involved in schemes to divert federal funds.
—Disrespectful – Many general statements are made about whites cheating the Indians; but little proof is given.

It was a quiet genocide and assimilation
—Incorrect – If this was genocide, all of the Dakota Indians would have been killed.

1837 Land Cession Treaties with the Ojibwe & Dakota

The first major land cessions by Dakota and Ojibwe people in what is now Minnesota coincided with the collapse of the fur trade.
—Is this correct? – Did the fur trade collapse?

1851 Dakota Land Cession Treaties

In these transformative treaties, Dakota people sold most of their land to the U.S. in exchange for $3,750,000 (estimated at 12 cents per acre), to be paid over decades.
—Incorrect – I calculate the total payment at $3,075,000.
—Incorrect – Only interest on the balance remaining would be paid for 50 years.

Little of the payment was received. The treaty stipulated that they would retain a strip of land 20 miles wide, spanning the Minnesota River; this article was unilaterally removed by the U.S. Senate, but later reinstated by legislation.
—Incorrect – Payment was received for about 9 years prior to the Dakota War. In the 1970s, Dakota descendants were paid for annuities and land taken in 1863.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations; combined 20 miles wide and about 150 miles long. This was hardly a narrow strip.
—Incorrect – In the 1851 Treaties, the Dakota did not own their reservations. In the 1858 Treaties, they were given ownership of their reservations on the south side of the river.

[1851 Treaties] – Of the compensation promised to the Dakota for their land, debt payments – inflated by the traders – came off the top. Another $60,000 was to be spent hiring (white) blacksmiths and preparing the Dakota to make a transition to farming. The remainder was to be placed in trust, with 5% paid to the Dakota per year. Of this money, half would be used to buy goods and services from the traders.
—Disrespectful – Prove that debt payments were inflated.
—Incorrect – Prove that half would be used to buy goods and services from the traders.
—Disrespectful – Throughout this discussion it is implied the traders were white. There were full-blood and mixed-blood Dakota also involved in the fur trade. Many of these traders were married to Indian women. Any money they made supported their families and likely their extended Dakota families.

In the 1858 Treaties…Dakota people were taken to Washington to sign away the northern half of their holdings along the Minnesota River, in acknowledgement that white settlers had encroached on the land and planned to stay. The ceded land was to be sold to settlers, the proceeds going to the Dakota (though up to $140,000 could be used to pay the Dakota people’s’ “just debts”). The remaining reservation was to be allotted to individual Dakota families, who were to subsist on annuity payments and farming.
—Incorrect – By terms of the 1851 Treaties, they did not own the land on the north side of the river. In 1858, they give up their claims to the north side.
—Incorrect – White settlement on the north side did not cause the 1858 Treaties. There were settlers that were removed by the military at Fort Ridgely.
—Incorrect – The U.S. paid the Dakota but not from the proceeds of selling the land.
—Where does this $140,000 figure come from? Almost all of the Lower Dakota money went to pay trader debts. Most of the Upper Dakota money may have gone into their “civilization fund.”
—The treaties provided for allotments to those who wanted to farm.

After the Dakota War of 1862, the U.S. abrogated all of its treaties with the Dakota, seized the remaining 10-mile wide strip, and exiled them from the State.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were exiled from the state.
—Incorrect – In the 1970s, Dakota descendants were paid for land and annuities taken in 1863.

Dakota sold 35,000,000 acres at 2 cents an acre. The U.S. still owes them.
—Incorrect – No one knows for sure how many acres were sold by the Dakota.
—Incorrect – Not knowing how many acres, price per acre cannot be computed.
—Incorrect – Prove that the U.S. still owes money.

The Indian uprising started because they were hungry. It started over eggs and a farmer who wouldn’t give up some eggs. Many of our people were killed over eggs.
—Incorrect – It is not known for sure why Dakota killed 5 settlers in Acton Township.
—Unbalanced – Many whites were killed too.

We need to look at the treatment of the American Indian including genocidal policies.
—Incorrect – If the U.S. committed genocide, all of the Dakota would have been killed.

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