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Treaty of Washington, 1855

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Indian Land Cessions and Reservations to 1858

Map of Native American Land Cessions and Reservations to 1858. In "Territorial Imperative: How Minnesota Became the 32nd State," by Rhoda Gilman (Making Minnesota Territory 1849-1858; Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1999).

The Treaty of Washington (1855) is a milestone in the history of Ojibwe people in Minnesota. The agreement ceded a large portion of Ojibwe land to the U.S. government and created the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs reservations.

The U.S. government acquired most Ojibwe land in eastern Minnesota in the Treaties of St. Peters (1837) and La Pointe (1854). In early 1855, it began planning a new treaty to buy most of the remaining Ojibwe land in the territory’s north-central woods.

Traders like Henry Rice supported a new treaty because it would help pay off the debts they claimed the Ojibwe owed. Rice had invested in the lumber industry and stood to profit from logging on Ojibwe land. He claimed, however, that the treaty would mostly benefit the Ojibwe. According to Rice, they were “starving” as hunters and gatherers and needed government aid to become farmers.

Thousands of Ojibwe, from different bands and with different interests, had attended the 1854 negotiations at La Pointe, making it difficult for U.S. representatives to get what they wanted. Commissioner of Indian Affairs George Manypenny did not want to repeat this situation in 1855. He instructed agent David Herriman to invite only a handful of Ojibwe leaders to Washington, DC, including Bagone-giizhig (Hole-in-the-Day the Younger) and Eshkibagikoonzh (Flat Mouth). They were not told the purpose of the visit—only that the government wished to discuss their lands in Minnesota.

The Mille Lacs band were upset about not being invited to the negotiations and sent their own delegation. Though it is unclear if they arrived in time, the terms of the final treaty applied to them.

Negotiations took place during three meetings held February 17–20. The U.S. government named Bagone-giizhig and Eshkibagikoonzh “head chiefs” and negotiators for the Ojibwe as a whole. Despite this, the delegations met separately and defended unique interests.

Manypenny argued that when the Ojibwe became farmers, they would have more land than they needed—land that the government wanted to buy. Bagone-giizhig and Eshkibagikoonzh replied that the Ojibwe would need support to transition to a farming economy and tried to negotiate a higher price.

They finally agreed that the Mississippi bands (including the Mille Lacs Ojibwe) would be paid $20,000 for twenty years. They would also receive $50,000 to pay debts and $10,000 in goods. The Pillager and Lake Winnibigoshish bands agreed to similar terms. Both parties assumed that the Ojibwe would continue to hunt and fish in the ceded territory.

Although the Mille Lacs band already lived on land ceded in 1837, they wanted their own permanent reservation, like those set aside in the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe. The 1855 treaty created this reservation on the southern side of Lake Mille Lacs. It set aside a second reservation at Leech Lake for the Pillager band.

To the Ojibwe negotiators, the treaty may have seemed the best of a limited number of options. Treaty payments had become crucial for the Ojibwe economy. Reservations reduced Ojibwe land but came with a promise that the people would not have to abandon their homes. Some Ojibwe leaders saw the reservation system as a way to protect a small part of their land from whiskey sellers, immigrants, and lumber companies.

Not all Ojibwe were happy with the treaty, which had been signed far away by a handful of leaders. Because it promised payments and land to these few, some Ojibwe felt the leaders had put personal gain ahead of their people. A group of Pillager warriors became so angry with Eshkibagikoonzh that they killed the horse he had ridden to the negotiations.

The 1855 treaty marked a turning point for the Ojibwe in Minnesota. Afterwards, having lost the majority of their land, they lived mostly on reservations. They relied more than ever on treaty payments that were often late or even stolen by Indian agents. More land was opened to logging, making it harder to survive by hunting and fishing alone.

The treaty divided reservations into individual plots that were supposed to become family farms. Many Ojibwe, however, were forced to sell their land to survive, or lost it to dishonest traders and officials. The Leech Lake and Mille Lacs bands faced an ongoing struggle to hold onto their lands that continued into the twentieth century.

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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.”
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.

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, DC regarding treaty negotiations. Among other documents, the collection contains a letter from Henry C. Gilbert (roll 5, pp. 133–136) discussing the negotiations at La Pointe in 1854.

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.

“Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians.” Legal Brief. Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute.
http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/97-1337.ZS.html

Oklahoma State University Digital Library. Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Treaty with the Chippewa, 1855.
http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/vol2/treaties/chi0685.htm

Transcription of the Record of the Negotiation and Signing of the Treaty of February 22, 1855. Washington, DC: N.p., 1855.
Minnesota Historical Society Call #: E99.C6 U8349 1855

Treaties Matter. Relations: Dakota & Ojibwe Treaties, 1855 Land Cession Treaty with the Ojibwe.
http://treatiesmatter.org/treaties/land/1855-ojibwe

Related Images

Indian Land Cessions and Reservations to 1858
Indian Land Cessions and Reservations to 1858
Black and white photograph of Clement Beaulieu, c.1890.
Black and white photograph of Clement Beaulieu, c.1890.
Black and white engraved portrait of Henry M. Rice, c.1860.
Black and white engraved portrait of Henry M. Rice, c.1860.
Portrait of Bagone-giizhig (Hole-in-the-Day the Younger), c.1855.
Portrait of Bagone-giizhig (Hole-in-the-Day the Younger), c.1855.
Black and white photograph of Quewesansish (Bad Boy), c.1860. Quewesansish was a leader of the Gull Lake Ojibwe.
Black and white photograph of Quewesansish (Bad Boy), c.1860. Quewesansish was a leader of the Gull Lake Ojibwe.
Black and white photograph of Ojibwe family, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of Ojibwe family, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of George W. Manypenny, commissioner of Indian affairs, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of George W. Manypenny, commissioner of Indian affairs, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of Willis A. Gorman, c.1861.
Black and white photograph of Willis A. Gorman, c.1861.
Black and white photograph of Iaweshowewekesik (Crossing the Sky), 1863. Iaweshowewekesik was a leader of the Gull and Rabbit Lake Ojibwe.
Black and white photograph of Iaweshowewekesik (Crossing the Sky), 1863. Iaweshowewekesik was a leader of the Gull and Rabbit Lake Ojibwe.

Turning Point

In February of 1855, Mille Lacs Ojibwe leaders draw the boundaries of a reservation to be created for their band during the negotiation of a treaty with the U.S. in Washington, DC.

Chronology

1837

In the Treaty of St. Peters, the Ojibwe cede land in present-day northwestern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota, including land surrounding Lake Mille Lacs. The treaty specifically guarantees the Ojibwe hunting and fishing rights in the ceded territory.

Septem-ber 1854

Thousands of Ojibwe and other interested parties, including trader Henry Rice, arrive at La Pointe to negotiate a new treaty.

Septem-ber 30, 1854

The Treaty of La Pointe is formally signed. It cedes Ojibwe land on the northern and western shores of Lake Superior to the U.S. government and creates the Fond du Lac and Grand Portage reservations.

December 17, 1854

Before the Treaty of La Pointe is formally ratified by the Senate, funding is approved in Congress for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to obtain the rest of the Ojibwe land in Minnesota Territory.

January 1855

Indian Agent David Herriman is instructed by Commissioner George Manypenny to assemble small delegations of “chiefs” from the Leech Lake Pillager and Mississippi River Ojibwe bands and send them to Washington.

Late January 1855

The Mississippi River Ojibwe delegation leaves for Washington. It includes Bagone-giizhig, Iaweshowewekesik, Quewesansish, and Wandekaw.

February 1, 1855

After learning that they have not been invited to the new negotiations, the Mille Lacs Ojibwe formally complain to Governor Willis Gorman. They send their own delegation to Washington with Clement Beaulieu acting as interpreter.

February 2, 1855

The Pillager delegation, including Eshkibagikoonzh, Pishake, Naybunacaush, and Maugegawbo and the Lake Winnibigosh leaders Migisi and Kawbemubbee passes through St. Paul on its way to Washington.

February 12, 1855

Negotiations begin in Washington, DC. Bagone-Giizhig and Eshkibagikoonzh serve as the main Ojibwe negotiators. Henry Rice, Paul Beaulieu, Clement Beaulieu, and Edward Ashman serve as interpreters.

February 22, 1855

The Treaty of Washington is signed.

May 11, 1858

Minnesota becomes the thirty-second state. The statehood act makes no mention of cancelling previous treaty agreements or guaranteed treaty rights.

1990

The Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe files suit, declaring that they retain the hunting and fishing rights guaranteed by the 1837 Treaty of St. Peters.

December 2, 1998

The U.S. Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments in the case of Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

March 24, 1999

The Court decides in favor of the Mille Lacs Ojibwe, declaring that the hunting and fishing rights guaranteed in the 1837 Treaty of St. Peters (and unmentioned in the 1855 Washington treaty) are still in effect.