500,000+ Acres Returned to Native Control Under the Obama Administration

The Obama is taking heat to intervene in the Dakota Access Pipeline (the latest email to hit our inbox was an effort to have the President declare Standing Rock a National Monument.) While Standing Rock is an absolutely critical issue, let’s not overlook a major accomplishment of this administration: it put 542,000 acres back into Native hands (yes, still technically land held in federal trust for Native nations). The largest chunks of returned lands were in western states. To put it in some perspective, if combined, it would be a chunk of land roughly 29 miles by 29 miles, or nearly 850 square miles — an area larger than Hennepin and Ramsey counties combined. Continue reading

Indiana Capitol Art: A State Open to Change; and This Day in History: The Treaty of New York

We continue with our art tour of other state capitols to see what lessons Minnesota might learn as we reassess our controversial capitol art. (Information on capitol art in Minnesota and other states is collected on our Capitol Art page.) Continuing alphabetically, today we visit the Indiana State Capitol.

Indiana State Seal
Indiana State Seal
Minnesota State Seal, shown on State Flag
Minnesota State Seal

Let’s start with the State Seal of Indiana. It appears on all the brass door knobs in the capitol. It bears an striking resemblance to the Minnesota State Seal. Both show felled trees, clearing the way for agriculture, and a sun on the horizon. The Minnesota State Seal has a Dakota man riding into the sunset; the Indiana State Seal shows the departing native buffalo. According to Wikipedia’s description of the Indiana State Seal:  “The sun rising in the picture represents that Indiana has a bright future ahead and is just beginning. The mountains it rises over are a representation of the Allegheny Mountains showing that Indiana is in the west. The woodman represents civilization subduing the wilderness that was Indiana. The buffalo represents the wilderness fleeing westward away from the advancing civilization.”

Seal of the Northwest Territory
Seal of the Northwest Territory

Both the Indiana and Minnesota state seals seem to have origins in the Seal of the Northwest Territory. The Northwest Territory refers to a large area  northwest of the Ohio River, and Northwest of the original 13 colonies. It covered all of what would become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and part of Minnesota. (When the British ruled the area, it was part of the Province of Quebec, according to Wikipedia. The British Royal Proclamation of 1763 had set the land aside for Native Americans. After the Revolutionary War, the British turned the land over to the United States in the Treaty of Paris.)

An article by Pamela Bennett provides the history of the Northwest Territory’s Seal. She quotes William Hayden English’s description of the seal from his 1896 book on the conquest of the Northwest Territory:

“The coiled snake in the foreground and the boats in the middle distance; the rising sun; the forest tree felled by the ax and cut into logs, succeeded by, apparently, an apple tree laden with fruit; the latin inscription ‘Meliorem lapsa locavit,’ all combine to forcibly express the idea that a wild and savage condition is to be superseded by a higher and better civilization. The wilderness and its dangerous denizens of reptiles, Indians and wild beasts, are to disappear before the ax and rifle of the ever- advancing western pioneer, with his fruits, his harvest, his boats, his commerce, and his restless and aggressive civilization.”

The motto: Meliorem lapsa locavit!’ is Latin for: “He has planted a better than the fallen.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the Indiana state capitol is that the Hoosiers have not felt compelled to keep it in its original 1888 condition. (Staff at the Minnesota Historical Society have said that it is in their DNA to do preservation. As part of the renovation, they are trying to keep the Minnesota State Capitol as close to its 1905 appearance as possible.) According to the Indiana state website, both the House and Senate chambers “have seen extensive renovation not in keeping with historic tradition.”

Perhaps the most striking element is the “Spirit of Indiana” mural in front of the House Chambers. Added in 1964, it’s 21 feet high and 41 feet wide. The state’s lengthier self-guided tour explains the symbolism:

In the middle is a woman representing statehood, wearing an empire gown typical of 1816. Pictured with her is William Henry Harrison. Just behind are a Sycamore tree, the Wabash River Valley and the Wabash and Erie Canal. To the right is the Goddess of Agriculture, Ceres. She is surrounded by industrialization. Ships in the background are carrying Indiana’s products to all parts of the world. Education is presented on the left. This figure is throwing cherished materialistic possessions into the sacrificial fire. The rising fumes form Pegasus, and Apollo is shown with his drawn bow sighting on the inspirational heights. Indiana’s eras of historic growth and progress are depicted in the cloud formations showing pioneers, settlers, soldiers and achievements of technology.

The House’s 18-foot-wide brass chandelier was installed in 1966, and is the largest chandelier in the capitol. The  last renovation of the Senate Chamber introduced a new carpet pattern with circles of 19 stars to symbolize Indiana as the 19th state in the Union. The capitol dome was given its first new copper cladding as a part of the building’s roof replacement in 1978.

The preservation pendulum did eventually swing back. In 1986, leaders decided to recreate parts of the capitol’s original appearance as a way to celebrate its centennial. The designs on the hallways and ceiling are back to the original style and color (after scraping off 13 coats of paint!). Still, a lot has changed.

It’s worth mentioning that the name “Indiana” means means Land of the Indians, according to statesymbolsusa: “Various American Indian tribes are a significant part of Indiana history, including the Miamis, Chippewa, Delawares, Erie, Shawnee, Iroquois, Kickapoo, Potawatomies, Mahican, Nanticoke, Huron, and Mohegan,” it says.

Here is a link to the state’s express virtual tour of the capitol; it shows no images of Indians, past or present. The lengthier 22-page self-guided tour (link above) makes a few mentions of Native Americans. Where they are mentioned, the guide offers a sanitized version of history and makes no mention of Native American’s positive contributions. Here are verbatim passages from the guide and a few comments:

Page 6: Governor Harrison persuaded native peoples to give up claims in the southern part of the territory, but many natives were resentful. The Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (the Prophet) formed an alliance with other native tribes to oppose further encroachment on their lands. The alliance established a village near the confluence of Tippecanoe Creek and the Wabash River. In 1811 Harrison received permission to break up the alliance. While Tecumseh was away, Harrison marched against the village, camping one mile away. He requested a meeting with Prophet, but on November 7, 1811, Prophet attacked. He was thrown back, and the army marched on and burned the village.
Comment: The narrative is vague. There is no context for how Gov. Harrison “persuaded” native peoples to give up their land claims. Using the term “persuaded” implies the native peoples were convinced. Then saying that native peoples were “resentful” makes it sound like their claims were petty.
Page 7: At the time of statehood, Native Americans were officially recognized as the owners of most of central and northern Indiana, about two-thirds of the state. In 1818 the federal government purchased Native American lands in central Indiana to encourage settlement. The “New Purchase” was opened for settlement in 1820.
Comment: Saying that the federal government “purchased” the land implies it was a fair deal. It is a matter-of-fact statement with no discussion of terms.
Page 8: In late 1834 or early 1835 Frances Slocum, then in her late 60s, revealed her identity to a trader. Delaware Indians had kidnapped Slocum at age five from her home in Pennsylvania. She married a Miami chief (Shepoconah) and settled on Miami land just east of Peru. After her “discovery,” her family moved to Indiana to be near her. Her burial place, now known as Slocum Cemetery, is a State Historical Site. She was buried initially in the Miami way, as she requested. Later her body was exhumed and given a Christian burial. The Miami name she was given, Maconaqua, means, “little bear woman.”
Comment: The guide’s choice for a human interest story focuses on the injustice done to a white child kidnapped by the Indians. There is no story about the many traumas done to the Indians.
Page 9: In Indiana, the history of Native Americans as organized bodies ended in 1872, when the state’s few remaining Miami dissolved their tribal bonds.
Comment: This makes it sound like the Miami dissolved their tribe by choice. There is no context for why there were only a few Miami left, and the forces that led them to that decision. This item from 1872 is the last entry in the guide about Indians in the state named “The Land of Indians.”

Walk up to the Indiana capitol’s fourth floor and you will find the Indiana Chapel. Established in 1962 as a “meditation room,” it is the first such chapel installed in a U.S. state capitol. (Click on the link to see some of the stained glass art and furnishings, including a set of King James Bibles.)

Lastly, just like Minnesota, Indiana’s capitol grounds have a monument honoring Columbus. (Notice the kneeling Native American man carved into the pedestal.) Not surprisingly, there is no mention of Columbus’ role in Native American genocide. The self-guided tour sticks to the traditional discovery narrative, noting that the Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission donated a plaque “to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World.”

This Day in History: The Treaty of New York

On August 7, 1790, leaders of the Creek Indians signed the Treaty of New York with the United States. According to Wikipedia, it was the first treaty between the United States and Native Americans not held in Indian controlled lands. (After earlier failed negotiations, President Washington invited Creek leaders to come to New York City, then the capital of the United States, to negotiate.)

The treaty promised “perpetual peace and friendship,” but also required Creek leaders to “acknowledge themselves, and the said parts of the Creek nation, to be under the protection of the United States of America, and of no other sovereign whosoever … ”

According to Wikipedia:

Creek leaders ceded a significant portion of their hunting grounds to the United States and agreed to turn runaway slaves over to federal authorities, although the Creek leaders averred that convincing the Creek people to honor the new boundary lines or return African American slaves would be difficult at best. …

Bribery was apparently involved, too. “In a secret side agreement to the treaty, [Creek leader Alexander] McGillivray received a commission as a brigadier in the U.S. Army and was granted permission to import goods through the Spanish port of Pensacola without paying American duties.”