Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Treaty with the Chippewa of 1854

Negotiations for the Treaty with the Chippewa (1854) took place at La Pointe, Wisconsin, between the United States and two groups of the Ojibwe (or Chippewa): the Ojibwe Lake Superior and the Ojibwe of the Mississippi. In the 1854 treaty, the Ojibwe ceded their lands in northeastern Minnesota to the United States in exchange for annuity payments over 20 years and the creation of a patchwork of reservations within the land ceded by the Ojibwe in the treaties of 1837, 1842, and 1854. In something of a compromise between the U.S. government, which had unsuccessfully attempted to remove the Ojibwe from their lands in the late 1840s and early 1850s, and the Ojibwe, who had strongly asserted their desire to remain on their homelands, the 1854 treaty created a reservation system, and the Ojibwe retained their rights to hunt, fish, and gather on all of the lands they ceded. Yet, because of the growing presence of white settlers in the late 1800s and 1900s on the land the Ojibwe had once occupied, the opportunity for the Ojibwe to continue to live in a traditional lifestyle dwindled after 1854.

The principal issue that led to the treaty of 1854 with the Ojibwe centered on removal. In 1850, President Zachary Taylor issued an order that revoked the privileges of the Ojibwe under the treaties of 1837 and 1842 and called for the removal of the Ojibwe to the lands they had not yet ceded. This decision sparked numerous petitions from missionaries, American citizens, and Ojibwe leaders who stood staunchly against the removal of the Ojibwe. In 1852, Ojibwe leaders Pishake, Kisketuhug, and Oshaga traveled from La Pointe to Washington to argue their case to President Millard Fillmore. Eventually, the United States relented, and Commissioner of Indian Affairs George Manypenny sent agents David Herriman and Henry Gilbert to La Pointe in 1854 to negotiate a treaty with the Ojibwe that would purchase for the United States the mineral-rich district in northeastern Minnesota and set up reservations for the Ojibwe on the land they ceded. The Ojibwe, who preferred the creation of reservations to removal, agreed to meet at La Pointe for treaty negotiations.

More than 4,000 Ojibwe meet at La Pointe in 1854 to take part in or witness the treaty negotiations. Instead of combining the Ojibwe of the Mississippi and the Ojibwe of Lake Superior into a single entity to represent the Ojibwe, as previous treaty negotiators had done, Henry Gilbert recognized the resentment between the two groups and separated them during the negotiations. Treaty negotiations concluded with the Ojibwe of Lake Superior receiving two-thirds of the annuity benefits and the Ojibwe of the Mississippi receiving the remaining one-third. The Ojibwe ceded the land in northeastern Minnesota for 20-year annuities in the form of money, cattle, cooking utensils, building materials, funds for education, money for the settlement of debts with traders, and various other funds and supplies designed to assist assimilation into white society. Of more importance, the 1854 treaty also set up a group of small reservations for the Ojibwe dispersed across the lands they ceded in northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Reservations were established for the following Ojibwe bands in 1854: L'Anse and Vieux De Sert, La Pointe, Lac De Flambeau, Lac Court Orielles, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, and Ontonagon.

The Ojibwe retained their rights to hunt and fish on the lands they ceded under the treaties of 1837, 1842, and 1854, yet the growing presence of white settlers throughout the late 1800s and 1900s led to the depletion of resources and the impracticability of maintaining a traditional lifestyle. Thus, the treaty of 1854 and the creation of the reservation system was a watershed in Ojibwe history that significantly altered the Ojibwe lifestyle.

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; Cleland, Charles E. Rites of Conquest: The History and Culture of Michigan's Native Americans. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992; Danziger, Edmund Jefferson, Jr. The Chippewas of Lake Superior. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.

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