On this day in history, Feb. 22, 1855, two Chippewa bands agreed to a treaty with the U.S. government in which they ceded millions of acres in northern Minnesota. (The Chippewa are also known as Ojibwe and Anishinabe.) Like many other treaties, the United States did not live up to the terms of the agreement and made unilateral changes. This treaty was negotiated in Washington D.C.
The first line of Article I reads:
The Mississippi, Pillager, and Lake Winnibigoshish bands of Chippewa Indians hereby cede, sell, and convey to the United States all their right, title, and interest in, and to, the lands now owned and claimed by them, in the Territory of Minnesota …
The treaty was supposed to create nine reservations, according to a Wikipedia summary. The Pillager Band was to get three reservations: Cass Lake, Leech Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish. The Mississippi Chippewa were to get six reservations: Gull Lake, Mille Lacs Lake, Pokegama Lake, Rabbit Lake, Rice Lake and Sandy Lake. According to Wikipedia,
Of these reservations, Rice Lake Indian Reservation was never established. Gull Lake, Pokegama Lake and Rabbit Lake Indian Reservations were extinguished. Later, the three Pillager Chippewa Reservations were consolidated to form the Greater Leech Lake Indian Reservation.
The Why Treaties Matter website elaborates further on the treaty’s fallout:
In years to come, various tracts of reservation land established in the Treaty of 1855 would be enlarged, ceded, stolen, restored, co-opted and vacated through treaties, acts of Congress, and the actions of corporations, Indian agents and other “entrepreneurs.”
The treaty provided for a series of annuity payments to the Chippewa. These had become increasingly important because the fur trade — on which the Chippewa had come to depend — had collapsed. Yet the annuity payment system was vulnerable to fraud, the Treaties Matter website said:
Annuity recipients had to show up at appointed times and places to receive their funds, and any funds not distributed could be pocketed by the Indian agents in charge of annuities.
The treaty also prescribes federal expectations for how the Chippewa should live:
[The Chippewa] also stipulate that they will settle down in the peaceful pursuits of life, commence the cultivation of the soil, and appropriate their means to the erection of houses, opening farms, the education of their children, and such other objects of improvement and convenience, as are incident to well-regulated society; and that they will abstain from the use of intoxicating drinks and other vices to which they have been addicted.
For other perspectives on the treaty, see:
- Mille Lacs Band summary of the Treaty of 1855
- MNopedia Summary, which notes that the treaty opened more land to logging, making it harder for the Chippewa to survive by hunting and fishing.
- MinnesotaHistory.net, which discusses the treaty’s implications for hunting and fishing rights.