Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Treaty of Chicago

The Treaty of Chicago (1833) was negotiated in September 26, 1833 in Chicago and it arranged for the cession of lands in northeastern Illinois, southeastern Wisconsin, and southern Michigan. It also provided for the removal of the United Band of Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi from the region. As a result of both the rapid expansion in settlement in the western Great Lakes region and the military might displayed by federal and local governments in the Black Hawk War a year earlier, representatives of the United Band and other Potawatomi groups agreed to meet with U.S. commissioners. At the end of the negotiations, the Natives had ceded approximately 5 million acres, and most had agreed to relocate to new homes west of the Mississippi River.

By the early 1830s, the advancement of American settlement and the opening of the Erie Canal had tremendously increased the scale of American migration into the western Great Lakes region. The non-Native population of Illinois alone had tripled in the period from statehood in 1818 to 1830. Although initial settlement had focused on the lead mining region in the northwestern part of the state, the scope had begun to change. This encroachment, combined with the passage of the Indian Removal(1830), increased the pressure on resident tribal groups to move to lands west of the Mississippi. In the fall of 1833, three government-designated treaty commissioners met in Chicago with the representatives of some of the largest Native landholders remaining in the region. More than 8,000 Native Americans and whites gathered by the shores of Lake Michigan to participate in the negotiations, which lasted for more than two weeks.

The treaty can be separated into two parts. The first and largest portion of the treaty addressed the negotiations made with the representatives of the United Band of Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi Indians. In this section, the United Band ceded claims to all of its lands in northeastern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin, which consisted of approximately 5 million acres. In return, the United States granted an equal amount of land located just north of the state of Missouri, to which the Indians were required to remove within three years from the date of ratification of the treaty. Additional articles provided money for education, agriculture, debt payments, and expenses related to the future removal. The second part of the treaty encompassed several supplementary agreements and addressed separate negotiations with the Potawatomi residents of southern Michigan. These bands and their main spokesperson, Pokagun, represented the strongest opposition to removal among the participating Native American groups. As a result of this resistance to relocation, the treaty commissioners negotiated a separate accord with the Native Americans. Although the primary supplement did arrange for the cession of all their lands in southern Michigan, an addendum allowed for some of these Michigan Potawatomi to move onto lands in northern Michigan, as opposed to lands west of the Mississippi.

Assessment of this treaty's impact must take into account a number of issues. In the first place, the treaty arranged the removal of a significant population of Native Americans from the western Great Lakes region and opened up 5 million acres to American settlers. But the treaty's influence went beyond this cession of Native-owned lands. Significantly, the treaty and its addenda illustrated some of the ways in which populations of Native peoples avoided removal. In particular, Pokagun's stance against the land cession led to the treaty addendum that provided an exemption for his band in southern Michigan. This community of Potawatomi maintained a presence in the region long after the United Band had moved to the Council Bluffs area in Iowa Territory. Finally, the negotiations in 1833 illustrated the growing influence of individuals of mixed descent within the United Band in particular. Two of the men designated as chiefs who signed the treaty, Billy Caldwell and Alexander Robinson, were not men born into the United Band. Caldwell, or Saukenuk, came from a Mohawk-Irish lineage; Robinson, or Cheecheebinquay, from an Ottawa-British one. Both men received lifetime annuities through the treaty as well as $5,000 each to pay debts incurred through trading with the United Bands.

John P. Bowes


Further Reading
Clifton, James A. The Prairie People: Continuity and Change in Potawatomi Indian Culture 1665–1965. Lawrence, KS: Regents Press, 1977; Edmunds, R. David. The Potawatomis, Keepers of the Fire. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978; Tanner, Helen Hornbeck, ed. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.
 

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