Monday, June 25, 2007

Treaties in Indian Country


Indians, Native Americans we prefer to be called today, were on the North American Continent prior to the 1700s. Native Tribes believe they have always been here. There are several other theories as to how they came here. One theory supposes that they came across the Bering Strait into Alaska. Another theory states they came from South America through Mexico and into the Great Lakes Basin. Today, DNA seems to point to the origins as coming via the Bering STraits of Alaska, from there, they scattered to New York where the Iroquois are found. The Iroquois Nation was composed of The Five Nations, including the Cherokee Nation. All originally located on the Eastern Coast of the North American Continent until the great removals of the early 1800’s. The Iroquois Nation is believed to have had a constitution as early as the 1500s.

Natives first came into contact with the Europeans, with the burgeoning European presence after the landing of De Soto in Haiti believing it to be the New World. It was here that Natives were first enslaved by Europeans and sold for labor in other parts of the world. Indian traders, as early as 1700s, had been trading with the Native American Nations, bringing with them goods to trade from the European world. In some instances treaties covered protection for the traders and Native American transactions. Native American’s first legal contact with the Europeans came in the form of the treaties made between the early American Frontiersmen and the Native Americans. Treaties were used to resolve conflicts between the Native Americans and early settlers, secure and cede land rights, regulate trade and to secure their alliance in the war for American Independence.


Treaties with the Native American Nations came as early as 1778 with the Delaware. 1782 with the Chickasaw, 1784 with the Six Nations, 1785 with the Wyandote and Cherokee, 1786 with the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Shawnee, 1790 with the Creeks, 1794 with the Oneida, 1832 with the Potawatami, 1852 with the Apache, 1853 with the Comanche, Kiowa and Apache, 1865 with the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

The Treat of 1778 with the Delaware was made out of necessity as the struggle for independence from England began in the early 1770’s. The colonists forged an alliance with them in order for the colonial forces to be able to pass through Native American land undeterred and for Native Americans to provide supplies to the troops. In return the colonists were to build a fort for the protection of the Delaware, while their young warriors were in battle. These forts were built within the Native American Nations as well. The treaty also called for trials for infractions by either side. Any captured enemies would be turned over to the colonial troops. The new United States would also provide any necessary supplies to the Delaware for their war with the British. This treaty also called the Delaware Nation a state and allowed representation in Congress.

These Treaties assured Native American Tribes that their land would not be taken from them. History would prove this as untrue as early as the 1800s when Native Americans were removed from their homelands in the East and resettled in the West. In some cases, the nomadic tribes such as the Sioux and Apache who had traveled the vast expanses of the Midwest and Southwest were now surrounded by the boarders of a specific area termed by the whites as “reservations”. Most tribal members by law could not go beyond the reservation boundaries.

The U.S. made a similar treaty with the Cherokee Nation in 1785. Both sides were to restore all prisoners, and the Cherokees acknowledge the protection of the United States. The boundaries of the Cherokee Nation were described as beginning at the mouth of the Duck River in Tennessee covering a land area that extended from North Carolina to South Carolina. No citizen of the United States was to settle on Native American lands. But colonists began to settle the Tennessee area around the Cumberland river as early as 1791 when North Carolina gave it's Revolutionary Soldiers land grants in the Tennessee Cumberland River area, now known as Davidson County Tennessee. In the early 1800s the U.S. Government began removal of the Native American Nations from the east to the west. The Delaware, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and some Seminole were removed to the northeastern portion of the Indian Territory now Oklahoma. Each Tribe had their own “Trail of Tears” as Native Americans have termed it. The removal also saw an end to some of the Native American Nations owning land as a whole for the tribe when the U.S. began giving land allotments to individuals.

This treaty also called for the Cherokee Nation to deliver up any criminals to the U.S. authorities. Citizens of the U.S. committing any crimes against the Native Americans were to be punished. Retaliation was prohibited, certainly due to the Cherokee ancient revenge laws. The United States was to regulate trade, and Congress was given the sole and exclusive right of regulating and managing the Cherokee affairs in a manner they thought proper. This then was the beginning of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Prior to this, there were Indian Agents within each Native American Nation. Today those Indian agencies have turned into a huge bureaucracy called the Bureau of Indian Affairs and are responsible for regulating these ancient treaties and Indian Affairs. The agent acted as a liaison between the Native American Nations and the U.S. Government or authorities. Traders were given liberty to trade with and go to any of the Cherokee tribes and towns and were protected by the U.S. Cherokees were to warn of any potential trouble against the peace. The Cherokee Nation was supposed to have full confidence in the justice of the United States, respecting their interests and they *shall* have the right to send a deputy of their choice, whenever they thought fit, to Congress. This treaty became known as the Hopewell Treaty.

Treaties were generally signed by the head Chiefs of each tribe and by a U.S. government representative usually consisting of military personnel. They also needed ratification or approval by Congress. In 1789, the United States Congress passed several statutes to defray the costs of commissioners appointed to make treaties with the Native Americans. In 1790 another act was passed to provide for the holding of treaty or treaties with certain Native American Tribes. From 1790 to 1889 thirty-five statutes were passed relating to holding treaties, commissioners for and their expenses incurred while dealing with the Native American Tribes.


Many of these treaties became the backdrops for future conflict. The treaty of 1868, known as the Fort Laramie Treaty, between the U.S. and the Sioux Nation became the focal point for the conflict at Wounded Knee in 1973 on the Pine Ridge Native American Land. This conflict has yet to be resolved and as late as June of 1999 the Sioux Nation, the state of South Dakota and the U.S. government are still trying to settle this matter.

The Sioux contend that the Treaty of 1877 which took away the Black Hills, because gold was discovered was invalid due to the requirement that the Treaty of 1868 could not be changed without a 3/4 vote by all the adult males of the tribe. The Dawes Allotment Act of 1877-79 greatly reduced the 160 acres, which individual Native Americans could acquire, by opening up the land for sale to white ranchers. Many of these land allotments were based on the Homestead Act, which recently has expired. The Treaty again was changed without a 3/4 vote by all the adult males of the tribe. Finally in 1934 Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act which allowed the U.S. Government to set up it's own form of government on Native American lands i.e. the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Russell Banks and Dennis Means were tried for the murder of a federal agent during an effort by modern Native American activists to uphold the original Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Leonard Peltier remains in a Federal Prison as a result of this conflict. Native Americans refer to this as the Trail of Broken Treaties.

Native Americans at Pine Ridge remain still without many services and unemployment remains high, but this struggle has helped to bring the Native American policy of the U.S. to the forefront.

In all probability the language difference also plays an important part in interrupting the treaties. Most Native American’s saw these as binding agreements between sovereign nations, the U.S. on the one hand and the Tribes on the other. However, in many instances public laws or executive orders have been issued which have in essence nullified these agreements without the consent or knowledge of the Tribal parties of the original treaties. Native American’s see sovereignty as the focal point, with the U.S. giving them full rights to govern and handle their own affairs. The U.S. on the other hand sees Native Nations as conquered Nations under the rule of their agency the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In the 1950s the U.S. government pursuant to numerous public laws began a policy of assimilation of Native Americans into main stream America. To Native Americans this meant a loss of their cultural ties, resulting in the conflict over the original treaties.


These are just some of the issues that face Native Americans today as the result of Treaties between Native American Tribes and the U.S. government.

Other issues include, Bureau of Indian Affairs governance, self-governance, adoption of Native American children out of their cultural setting, uninvestigated and unresolved murders of Native Americans, religious freedom, education, health care, land disputes, treaty fishing rights, Native American authenticated crafts and grave desecration. Native American Nations are moving slowly towards self-governance and Tribes are struggling for sovereign recognition by Congress to enable them to manage and handle their own affairs. Native Americans prefer self-reliance to government assistance.

To Native Americans the struggle continues.

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