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Treaty of La Pointe, 1854

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Black and white photograph of annuities being paid at the Fond Du Lac reservation, c.1865.

Annuities being paid at the Fond Du Lac reservation, c.1865.

The second Treaty of La Pointe (1854) ceded most Ojibwe land on the northern and western shores of Lake Superior to the U.S. government. It also established the Grand Portage and Fond du Lac reservations. In exchange, the Ojibwe received annual payments and a guarantee that they could continue to hunt and fish throughout this territory.

For the U.S., the main aim of the treaty was access to natural resources on Ojibwe land, including copper, minerals, and rich pine forests. With this goal in mind, Bureau of Indian Affairs agents Henry C. Gilbert and David B. Herriman traveled to La Pointe, Wisconsin, to negotiate land cessions.

The Ojibwe were in a position to be receptive. Since the 1830s, changes in demand and an influx of white migrants into former hunting grounds had altered the economics of the fur trade. Many Ojibwe owed money to white or mixed-race traders and could no longer make enough from furs alone to pay off these debts. Signing a new treaty provided one way to secure an additional source of income.

Thousands of Ojibwe attended the negotiations in September of 1854. Several dozen interested traders were present, including Henry M. Rice. The government invited both the Lake Superior and Mississippi River bands (except for the Mille Lacs, Snake River, and St. Croix bands) because they shared a large chunk of the desired land. The Ojibwe negotiators included Bizhiki (Buffalo) and Joseph Osawgee of the Lake Superior bands, and Bagone-giizhig (Hole-in-the-Day the Younger) of the Mississippi bands.

These two groups of Ojibwe had been growing apart for some time. The Treaty of La Pointe created a formal division between the Mississippi Ojibwe and the Lake Superior Ojibwe by specifying which bands would belong to each group for future negotiations with the U.S. government. They agreed to divide their shared land, and to split the benefits and payments from earlier treaties as well. One-third of previous benefits would go to the Mississippi River Ojibwe and two-thirds to the Lake Superior Ojibwe.

The Ojibwe agreed to sell their land only if they could live on reservations near their homes, and to hunt and fish throughout the land they ceded. They had reasons to insist on this point. In 1850 President Zachary Taylor had ordered all Ojibwe still living in Wisconsin and Michigan to be removed from their reservations and sent west. This order was later cancelled. The same year, the government moved the site for treaty payments to Sandy Lake, far away from where many Ojibwe lived. Hundreds died waiting for their payments or traveling home during the harsh winter. The Ojibwe therefore requested that the 1854 Treaty promise they would not later be forced to leave their new reservations, and that treaty benefits would be paid close by.

The U.S. government sought to use treaties like the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe to change the lifestyle and culture of American Indians. It wanted them to learn English, convert to Christianity, and become individual farmers. The treaty therefore stated that the U.S. government would provide a blacksmith, farming equipment, and other supplies for each reservation, along with money to hire teachers.

Finally, the treaty promised to give the Ojibwe twenty years of payments in cash and supplies for their land, as well as an extra $90,000 for the Lake Superior bands to help pay their debts to traders.

The 1854 Treaty of La Pointe was signed by eighty-five Ojibwe leaders on September 30. Congress ratified it on January 10, 1855.

Ojibwe living on the new reservations often struggled in the years after the treaty. Timber companies cut down forests. Mining companies dug up the land, making it even harder to earn a living from hunting and trapping. Many were forced to go into deeper debt and to rely on the small treaty payments to survive.

The hunting and fishing rights guaranteed in the Treaty of La Pointe never expired. A federal court upheld this fact in the Voight Decision in 1983. In 1988 the state of Minnesota signed a new agreement with the Lake Superior bands that provided yearly payments in exchange for placing some limits on their treaty rights. This agreement is still in force in the twenty-first century.

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Danziger, Jr., Edmund J. “They Would Not Be Moved: The Chippewa Treaty of 1854.” Minnesota History 43, no. 5 (Spring 1973): 175–185.
http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/43/v43i05p175-185.pdf

Erlinder, Peter. “The Anishinabe Nation’s ‘Right to a Modest Living’ From the Exercise of Off-Reservation Usufructuary Treaty Rights…in All of Northern Minnesota.” William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul.
http://minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2010/04/documents/treatyrights.pdf

Kugel, Rebecca. To Be the Main Leaders of Our People: A History of Minnesota Ojibwe Politics 1825–1898. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1998.

McClurken, James M. Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2000.

M533
Documents Relating to the Negotiation of Ratified and Unratified Treaties with Various Tribes of Indians, 1801–1869
United States Bureau of Indian Affairs
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Documents from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. regarding treaty negotiations. Among other documents, contains a letter from Henry C. Gilbert (roll 5, pp. 133–136) discussing the negotiations at La Pointe in 1854.

Oklahoma State University Digital Library. Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Treaty with the Chippewa, 1854.
http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/vol2/treaties/chi0648.htm

Treaties Matter. Relations: Dakota & Ojibwe Treaties. 1854 Ojibwe Land Cession Treaty.
http://treatiesmatter.org/treaties/land/1854-ojibwe

Related Images

Black and white photograph of annuities being paid at the Fond Du Lac reservation, c.1865.
Black and white photograph of annuities being paid at the Fond Du Lac reservation, c.1865.
Color map of Indian Land Cessions and Reservations in Minnesota to 1858
Color map of Indian Land Cessions and Reservations in Minnesota to 1858
Black and white engraved portrait of Henry M. Rice, c.1860.
Black and white engraved portrait of Henry M. Rice, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of Ojibwe at Grand Portage Reservation, 1885.
Black and white photograph of Ojibwe at Grand Portage Reservation, 1885.
Black and white photograph of an Indian Congregation, Sawyer, Fond du Lac Reservation, 1909–1912.
Black and white photograph of an Indian Congregation, Sawyer, Fond du Lac Reservation, 1909–1912.
Black and white photograph of a view of La Pointe with Bayfield in the distance, 1875.
Black and white photograph of a view of La Pointe with Bayfield in the distance, 1875.

Turning Point

In September 1854, the Lake Superior and Mississippi River bands of Ojibwe present at La Pointe agreed to divide their shared territories before selling them to the U.S. government. This agreement allowed the negotiations to proceed and created an official division between the two groups for future treaties.

Chronology

1842

In the first Treaty of La Pointe, the Ojibwe cede their last territories on the southern shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the U.S. government.

1847

In the second Treaty of Fond du Lac, the Lake Superior and Mississippi River Ojibwe cede a triangular area of land west of the Mississippi to the U.S., whose officials wish to create a “buffer zone” between the Ojibwe and the Dakota.

1848

Surveyors discover copper veins on the north shore of Lake Superior.

February 1850

President Zachary Taylor issues an order that all Ojibwe living on ceded territory in Michigan and Wisconsin are to be moved west. This order is later postponed.

October 1850

To encourage the Ojibwe to move west, the government announces it will pay ongoing treaty benefits from the first Treaty of La Pointe (1842) at Sandy Lake rather than at La Pointe.

December 1850

The promised treaty benefits at Sandy Lake are late to arrive and are finally paid out only in December. Hundreds of Ojibwe die from starvation, disease, and exposure while waiting for their benefits to arrive.

1852

An Ojibwe delegation travels to Washington, D.C. to protest the removal order and to try to convince new president Millard Fillmore to cancel it.

1852

David Dale’s geological survey of northern Minnesota is published, including his findings of copper on the northern shore of Lake Superior. Interest in obtaining these lands for mining grows.

1853

Franklin Pierce takes office as President of the United States and finally cancels the Ojibwe removal order.

August 1854

Commissioner of Indian Affairs George W. Manypenny directs the head of the Mackinac Agency in Michigan, Henry C. Gilbert, to arrange a new treaty council with the Ojibwe.

Septem-ber 1, 1854

Gilbert arrives at La Pointe. He is joined by David Herriman, head of the Chippewa Agency at Crow Wing, two weeks later.

Septem-ber 1854

Ojibwe arrive at La Pointe: the L’Anse, Vieux de Sert, and Ontonagon bands from Michigan; the La Pointe, Lac du Flambeau, and Lac Court Oreilles from Wisconsin; and the Bois Forte, Grand Portage, Fond du Lac, and Mississippi River bands from Minnesota.

Septem-ber 30, 1854

The treaty is formally signed by the attending Ojibwe leaders and the U.S. negotiators, Herriman and Gilbert, as well as by some of the traders present, including Henry M. Rice.

January 29, 1855

After ratification in the U.S. Senate, President Franklin Pierce officially proclaims the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe.