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
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.