This Day in History (March 11, 1863): Ojibwe-U.S. Treaty Cedes Ojibwe Lands, Bribes Ojibwe Treaty Signers, Requires Christian Oversight

On this day in history, March 11, 1863, Ojibwe leaders signed a treaty with the United States, acknowledging the Mille Lacs Band for its role in backing the United States in the Dakota-U.S. War.

The treaty also:

  • Ceded additional Ojibwe lands to the United States.
  • Bribed Ojibwe treaty signers with special one-time payments and houses.
  • Defined — in U.S. terms — what it meant to be an Ojibwe Chief.
  • Appointed Christian leaders to oversee annuity payments.

“Ojibwe”  and “Chippewa” are English names for Anishinaabe people. Unless referring to historical documents or context, this blog uses Anishinaabe instead of either Ojibwe or Chippewa.

Ceding Lands

US. treaty signers included prominent Minnesota political and financial leaders such as Henry Mower Rice, Minnesota’s First U.S. Senator. Photo from Wikipedia.

Article I of the treaty reads:

The reservations known as Gull Lake, Mille Lac, Sandy Lake, Rabbit Lake, Pokagomin Lake, and Rice Lake, … are hereby ceded to the United States, excepting one-half section of land, including the mission-buildings at Gull Lake, which is hereby granted in fee simple to the Reverend John Johnson, missionary.

However, the treaty make a special provision for the Mille Lacs Band. Here’s the context: The 1863 treaty came months after the end of the Dakota-U.S. War in southern Minnesota and only eight days after Congress passed legislation exiling the Dakota people from state of Minnesota. More here.)

During the Dakota-U.S. War, the Anshinaabe people were divided about which side to support, according the Treaties Matter website. However,

The Mille Lacs band unequivocally sided with the U.S., actively protecting white settlers and military installations. As a result, in their treaty with the U.S. in 1863, the Mille Lacs band became “unmovable,” securing their reservation against future legal maneuverings.

The treaty language reads:

That owing to the heretofore good conduct of the Mille Lac Indians, they shall not be compelled to remove so long as they shall not in any way interfere with or in any manner molest the persons or property of the whites.

Bribing Chiefs

The treaty defined what it meant to be an Ojibwe Chief, and allowed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to give them annual payments based on their ability to encourage their people to live a “civilized life.” The treaty reads:

No person shall be recognized as a chief whose band numbers less than fifty persons; and to encourage and aid the said chiefs in preserving order, and inducing by their example and advice the members of their respective bands to adopt the pursuits of civilized life, there shall be paid to each of said chiefs, annually, out of the annuities of said bands, a sum not exceeding one hundred and fifty dollars, to be determined by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, according to their respective merits.

The U.S. treaty negotiators also bribed Anishinaabe Chiefs with a one-time payment of $16,000 — “to be paid upon the signing of this treaty.” Further, the treaty promised:

… to build for the chiefs of said bands one house each, of the following description: to be constructed of hewn logs; to be sixteen by twenty feet each, and two stories high; to be roofed with good shaved pine shingles; the floors to be of seasoned pine-plank, jointed; stone or brick fire-places and chimneys; three windows in lower story and two in the upper story, with good substantial shutters to each, and suitable doors; said houses to be pointed with lime mortar: provided, that the amount expended under this article shall not exceed the sum of three thousand six hundred dollars.

Comment: The treaty inserted the United States into the Anishinaabe’s internal politics and customs. These payments created a hierarchy of wealth foreign to traditional Anishinaabe ways.

Christian Oversight

The treaty required the President to appoint “a board of visitors, to consist of not less than two nor more than three persons, to be selected from such Christian denominations as he may designate, whose duty it shall be to attend the annuity payments to the Indians.”

This language implies that this is not just a government-to-government financial contract, but comes with the assimilating influences of Christian oversight.

U.S. Treaty Signers

The U.S. treaty signers included prominent Minnesota political and financial leaders. According to the Treaties Matter website, they included:

  • Clark W. Thompson, a “banker, land and railroad speculator and Minnesota legislator.” He also was superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern superintendency.
  • Henry Mower Rice, Minnesota’s first Senator (1858–1863). “Henry and his brother Edmund (a U.S. Representative from Minnesota) acquired extensive land holdings, directorships in railroads, and other interests that related to US-Indian relations.” He is Rice County’s namesake.
  • D.G. Morrison, who was “one of the original incorporators of Fond du Lac, which became Duluth.” Morrison County is named after his family.

The treaty also extended annuity payments and provided additional money for farming.

Click on the links above for more details.

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