This Day in History, May 12, 1879: Standing Bear v. Crook Grants Civil Rights to Native Americans Under U.S. Law

On this day in history, May 12, 1879, the landmark case Standing Bear v. Crook granted Native Americans civil rights under U.S. law. This case is another opportunity to learn about and lament the U.S. government’s gross violation of treaty rights and a window into historical trauma.

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This Day in History, Feb. 28, 1823: U.S. Supreme Court Adopts ‘Discovery Doctrine’

On this day in history, Feb. 28, 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. M’Intosh, effectively adopting a secular form of 15th Century Papal edicts as the basis for the relationship between the U.S. government and Native nations.

The Papal edicts provided the legal and religious justification for European explorers to claim indigenous lands on behalf of their monarchs by right of discovery. Collectively, these edicts (or bulls) are known as the Doctrine of Discovery. In Johnson v. M’Intosh, the Court wrote that the United States, as the successor nation to European monarchies, maintains those same land rights.

The United States civilized inhabitants “hold, and assert in themselves, the title by which it was acquired. They maintain, as all others have maintained, that discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest …”

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Going Back to the 1800s, U.S. Leaders Have Acknowledged Abuse of Indians

On this day in history, April 9, 1830, U.S. Sen. Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, a Whig Party member, gave a long and stirring speech on the Senate floor opposing the Indian Removal Act.

Sen. Frelinghuysen is unknown today, but his speech makes it clear that there were voices of conscience opposed to this immoral law, a voice other leaders chose to ignore.

President Andrew Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act, which eventually passed. It resulted in the massive forced removal of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminoles, Chocktaw, and Muskogee-Creek from the southeastern United States to present day Oklahoma. Most notably, the Act resulted in what is known as the Trail of Tears, referring to the many indigenous people who suffered and died from exposure, disease, and starvation during the long walk.

Frelinghuysen’s speech, excerpted in Paul Prucha’s Documents of United States Indian Policy, begins:

God, in his providence, planted these tribes on this Western continent, so far as we know, before Great Britain herself had a political existence. I believe, sir, it is not now seriously denied that the Indians are men, endowed with kindred faculties and powers with ourselves; that they have a place in human sympathy, and are justly entitled to a share in the common bounties of a benignant Providence. And, with this conceded, I ask in what code of the law of nations, or by what process of abstract deduction, their rights have been extinguished?

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This Day in History (March 24, 1999): Mille Lacs Band Wins Landmark Treaty Rights Case at the U.S. Supreme Court

On this day in history, March 24, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa had the treaty-protected rights to hunt, fish, and gather on the lands the Band ceded to the U.S. government by the 1837 treaty.

This treaty has particular relevance today. Anihsinaabe bands (called either Ojibwe or Chippewa by early settlers and treaty documents) are resisting the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota based on similar claims to hunting, fishing and gathering rights along the pipeline’s proposed route.

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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.

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This Day in History: Congress Exiles Dakota from Minnesota (1863); “Civilization Fund” Act Passes (1819); and More

On this day in history, March 3, 1863, Congress passed a law exiling the Dakota people from Minnesota, a law still in effect today.

Officially, it was called: “An Act for the Removal of the Sisseton, Wahpaton, Medawakanton and Wahpakoota Bands of Sioux or Dakota Indians, and for the disposition of their Lands in Minnesota and Dakotas.”

The law was passed at the urging of Minnesota’s Congress members in the wake of the Dakota-U.S. War; it grew from a mix of fear and greed. It resulted in the exile of the Dakota people from their homeland. Their lands had been diminished to a section of land along the Minnesota River, and with this act the U.S. government allowed for it to be sold to white settlers. The government moved the Dakota to barren land in the Dakota Territory known as Crow Creek.

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There are several other significant historical events that occurred on March 3. Continue reading

This Day in History (Feb. 21, 1863): Congress Expels Winnebago Nation from Minnesota, More Than 550 Die During Forced Relocation

Map from Cole Sutton’s blog. Used by permission.

This day in history, Feb. 21, 1863, Congress passed a law — pushed by members of Minnesota’s delegation — to expel the Winnebago people from the state. The Act was fueled by fear, prejudice, and greed; it resulted in land theft and the deaths of more than 550 Winnebago people.

The Winnebago (also called Ho Chunk) were expelled from Minnesota in the wake of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, a war in which the Winnebago did not participate. Yet Minnesota’s leaders were so eager to free up the Winnebago’s reservation lands for settlers to farm that they expelled the Winnebago before they officially expelled the Dakota.

This is a horrifically ugly chapter in Minnesota history. It includes the little known story of the Knight of the Forest, a secret Klan-like group that formed to expel all indigenous peoples from the state.

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