Book Release: The Relentless Business of Treaties: How Indigenous Land Became US Property

Portrait of Henry Sibley in the Minnesota State Capitol.

Henry Sibley, the state’s first Governor, did deplorable things. At the top of the list, he developed trust with the Dakota people then betrayed them. He strong armed the Dakota people into signing treaties from which Sibley profited and the Dakota people suffered.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s new interpretive plaque next to Sibley’s Capitol portrait explains:

He [Sibley] used his influence with the Dakota to force through the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota in 1851 which stripped them of more than 24 million acres of land and diverted a significant portion of the payments to cover alleged debts to fur traders, including Sibley himself.”

According to the NPR piece Little War on the Prairie, because of the duplicitous treaty language, Sibley got $66,000 from the initial treaty payment while all Dakota people combined got $60,000, Sibley was now out of debt; in seven years, he would be Governor.

The tragic thing is, Sibley wasn’t the exception, he was the rule. Treaty making was a money maker for white colonial businessmen and politicians.

If you want to learn more of these stories, check out the new book: The Relentless Business of Treaties: How Indigenous Land Became US Property, written by Martin Case. It will be released by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in June.

The book launch is Thursday, June 7, at 7 pm, at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis,

According to the early publicity:

Case provides a comprehensive study of the treaty signers, exposing their business ties and multigenerational interrelationships through birth and marriage. Taking Minnesota as a case study, he describes the groups that shaped US treaty making to further their own interests: interpreters, traders, land speculators, bureaucrats, officeholders, missionaries, and mining, timber, and transportation companies.