Native American Press/Ojibwe News

Lower Sioux Treaty Council hosts conference on Mdewakanton and other Dakota treaties

February 14, 2003
A treaty conference relevant to the Mdewakanton and other Sioux Indian treaties at Jackpot Junction Hotel was held on February 5-7, 2003.

Hosted by the Lower Sioux Treaty Council, the conference included comments by Sheldon Peters Wolfchild, a member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

Attendants at the conference received information on the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, copies of Sioux treaties dating back as far as 1805 and those of 1837, 1851 and 1858. Handouts were available on the Dakota Conflict trials of 1862 and tribal and indigenous sovereignty issues of the 1800s.

The Treaty with the Sioux of 1805 allowed the U.S. to establish military posts on 9 square miles of land at the mouth of the St. Croix River, including St. Anthony Falls, extending 9 miles on each side of the river.

In return, the Sioux were to receive $2,000 or the value of goods and merchandise that included $200 and 82 gallons of whiskey, according to Wolfchild.

Wolfchild said he had a copy of letter written by President Thomas Jefferson to the U.S. War Department in 1803 regarding the creation of government trading companies geared “to get Indian chiefs and sub-chiefs to go into debt so it would be easier to sign treaties with them.”

Many years later, private companies also got into the trading business with Native Americans, Wolfchild said.

After the 1851 Treaty with the Sioux-Mdewakanton and Wapakoota, traders began marking up items 22 percent and charged 42 percent annual interest, knowing they would be paid from gold shipments intended for Indians, according to Wolfchild.

“Many books said Indians weren’t very good farmers,” Wolfchild said. That wasn’t true. The Dakota raised 5,000 acres of corn and potatoes until the drought of 1861 when all crops failed and the gold didn’t come. They did their end of the bargain. It was the U.S. government who did not live up to the treaty. One of the traders, (Andrew Myrick) told our starving people to eat grass or their own dung.”

Wolfchild told a story of his great-father and his friends who had their feet and hands bound before they rode from the Lower Sioux Agency through New Ulm to what he called a “concentration camp” at Fort Snelling after the 1982 conflict. The men were nearly beaten to death as they rode through New Ulm, according to Wolfchild.

Wolfchild credited Bishop Whipple with saving many deposed tribal members after the 1862 Dakota Conflict. Whipple protected tribal members after they joined the Episcopal church on land that later became the Lower Sioux Reservation near Morton.

More recently, Wolfchild, who made a video exposing injustices to disenfranchised Dakota elders, spoke in opposition to a rule that would give full faith and credit to Minnesota tribal courts.

If the Minnesota Supreme Court accepts the rule, orders, judgements and acts of any tribal court will be “rubber-stamped” into the Minnesota court system. It would give them more weight than a comparable decision of a Minnesota district court, since district court decisions of a Minnesota district court. Since district court decisions can be appealed while tribal court decisions may not.

Wolfchild used charts in his testimony showing problems with current Dakota enrollment and the interlocking system between tribal attorneys and tribal court judges in Dakota communites.

Dr. Barbara Feezer Buttes, an author, anthropologist and assistant professor of American Studies at Arizona State University West, spoke about inaccurate accounts of Indian history. Much of the information she presented will be printed in her forthcoming book, Beyond Sovereignty: The Mdewakanton Identity Heist.

Buttes said several accounts of Father Hennepin’s “capture” by a Sioux “war party” was grossly inaccurate.

“Father Hennepin thrust himself upon the Sioux.” Buttes said. “Historians pay little detail to the actual details of this. The story is marred by intrusions of author’s egos and sweeping judgments.”

Buttes said many authors’ accounts were “disjointed narratives of unrelated bit of minutiae.” She said many authors were unable to understand the complexity of their subject matter and ignored written records in favor of “unscholarly observations.”

Treaty lawyer James McGuire from New York, thinks the Civil Rights Act may be able to help tribal members who were denied rights by their own court system. McGuire made the remark after he was told by tribal members that their own court system is used to keep members off the reservation. Dr. Robert Venables, American Indian studies director and senior lecturer at Cornell University, who was to give an historical presentation was unable to attend the conference.