Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Treaty with the Chippewa

The Treaty with the Chippewa (January 14, 1837) was between the United States and three groups of the Ojibwe across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. After extensive negotiations between the parties near present-day Minneapolis and St. Paul, the United States agreed to provide the Ojibwe with cash annuities, blankets, rifles, cooking utensils, and other provisions in exchange for the cession of the timber-rich lands in northern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. Of more value to the Ojibwe was the agreement of the United States to refrain from seeking to remove the Native Americans from the lands they ceded and to provide payments to traders to whom the Ojibwe were heavily in debt. In an era in which the United States was actively engaged in removing the Native Americans from the eastern portion of the country, the treaty of 1837 with the Ojibwe was unique because it contained no removal clause. With the Ojibwe able to hunt, fish, and gather on the lands they ceded to the United States in the treaty of 1837 (and in subsequent treaties in 1842 and 1854), they had legal footing to challenge the U.S. government, in the late 1900s, to retain the right to hunt and fish that had been increasingly disputed throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The primary circumstance that led to the treaty of 1837 was the interest of the United States in the bounty of timber resources located in northern Wisconsin. The Ojibwe, who had established a reliance on, and had sunk into debt to, traders who had provided them with guns, blankets, and other necessary equipment during the fur trading era, were willing to negotiate with the United States to alleviate their economic difficulties. Commissioner Henry Dodge, the Wisconsin territorial governor acting on behalf of the United States, called together more than a 1,000 Ojibwe from various locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan to negotiate the sale of the timber-rich lands. The three major groups represented were the Ojibwe of the Mississippi, the Ojibwe of Lake Superior, and the Pillager Ojibwe. Dodge stressed to these groups that the United States desired the land in northern Wisconsin specifically for its timber resources. As the forests were a renewable resource, the Ojibwe agreed to cede the land under the important stipulation that they could continue to hunt, fish, and gather on it, provided they did so peacefully and did not interfere with logging operations. In exchange for the land, Dodge was authorized to pay $9,500 in currency, $19,000 in goods, $3,000 to support three blacksmiths, $1,000 for agricultural pursuits, $2,000 in provisions, $500 for tobacco, and money to settle debts between the Ojibwe and their traders.

The land the United States acquired from the treaty of 1837 was for logging operations and not initially intended for white settlement; thus, there was no massive influx of settlers who sought to displace the Ojibwe in the years following the treaty. It was not until the reservation system was created in 1854 that the Ojibwe way of life became radically altered; even then, they retained the right to hunt and fish on the land they ceded. The treaty of 1837 set in motion the tradition of a nonremoval policy by the United States that appeared again in the 1842 and 1854 treaties with the Ojibwe. The Ojibwe have not forgotten this important aspect of the treaties, and in the late 1900s many groups asserted in court the right to hunt and fish on ceded land, for the growing inclination of the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries was to restrict those rights. The lasting impact of these cases has yet to be determined.

Troy Henderson


Further Reading
McClurken, James M., ed. Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000; Satz, Ronald. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserve Rights of Wisconsin's Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991.
 

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