values case study

What Values Shaped Treaty Making Between Native Nations and the United States?


Native Nations engaged in treaty negotiations to preserve and protect their people and the sacred landscapes that were their homelands. When Native leaders spoke and listened in the treaty councils they believed that all the words exchanged were true and that promises given would be honored forever.

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"Almost every tribal religion was based on land in the sense that the tribe felt that its lands were specifically given to its use. The proceedings of treaty councils are filled with protests and declarations by Indians to the effect that lands cannot be sold since no human has the power or right to own them. Some of the old chiefs felt that, because generations of their ancestors had been buried on their lands and because the sacred events of their religion had taken place on the lands, they were obligated to maintain the tribal lands against new kinds of exploitation."
John Stands in Timber and Margot Liberty, Cheyenne Memories (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972).
Late Cheyenne elder , John Stands In Timber, explains the relationship and attachment to homeland that was generally shared by Native people. Land was central to ceremony and generational history. Native people were intimately tied to particular landscapes.
"As for the Natives in New England, they inclose noe Land, neither have any settled habytation, nor any tame Cattle to improve the Land by, and soe have noe other but a Naturall Right to those Countries, soe as if we leave them sufficient for their use, we may lawfully take the rest, there being more than enough for them and us."
"Generall Considerations for the Plantation in New England," London, 1629, in the Winthrop Papers, Allyn B. Forbes, ed., Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1929-47, vol. 2, pg. 118.
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John Winthrop delivered this address the year before coming to America. Winthrop later went on to be governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

John Winthrop, "General Considerations for the Plantation in New England"

As for the Natives in New England, they claim no Land, nor do they have any settled places to live, nor any tame Cattle to improve the Land, and so they have only a Naturall Right, not a legal right, to those Countries; so if we leave them sufficient land for their use, we may lawfully take the rest, since there is more than enough for them and us.

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treaty rights
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"[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur."
Article II, Section 2, U.S. Constitution.
Article II of the U.S. Constitution contains language that delineates the powers of the executive branch and the Senate in making and ratifying a treaty.
"When Indians gave their word and smoked the pipe, they sent the smoke to the Creator. It was sacred, and the treaty was good in the eyes of all. The white men had to go back and ask other white men if they could keep their promises and make good on their word."
Vine Deloria Jr., quoted in the introduction to Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, ed. Suzan Shown Harjo (Washington, D.C. and New York: Smithsonian Institution, 2014), 3.
Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux ) is speaking to the ethics of Native people and the integrity bound to the pipe. He contrasts this with the process of government treaty negotiators making promises that were not in force or legal until that treaty was ratified by the Senate .
westward expansion
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"I heard that long ago there was a time when there were no people in this country except Indians. After that the people began to hear of men that had white skins; they had been seen far to the east. Before I was born they came out to our country and visited us. The man who came was from the government. He wanted to make a treaty with us, and to give us presents, blankets and guns, flint and steel, and knives. The Head Chief told him that we needed none of these things. He said, 'We have our buffalo and corn. These things the Ruler gave to us, and they are all we need...We do not want your presents, and we do not want you to come into our country."
Curly Chief, "Keep Your Presents" in Native American Testimony, ed. Peter Nabokov (New York: Penguin Books, 1999).
Curly Chief ( Pawnee ) describes his leader rejecting European goods, valuing their tribal land and resources over what was being offered.
"The United States, then, have unequivocally acceded to that great and broad rule [Discovery] by which its civilized inhabitants now hold this country. They hold, and assert in themselves, the title by which it was acquired. They maintain, as all others have maintained, that discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest; and gave also a right to such a degree of sovereignty, as the circumstances of the people would allow them to exercise."
Johnson v. M'Intosh, 21 U.S. (8 Wheat) 543 (1823).
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In 1823, the Supreme Court was faced squarely with the long-anticipated questions of whether the Doctrine of Discovery was American law; the nature of Indian land titles ; and whether individuals could extinguish Indian titles. Johnson v. M'Intosh is an extremely important Indian law case because it was the first major Indian case to reach the Supreme Court, and because it tested the ownership of all real property in the United States.

Johnson v. M'Intosh, 1823

The United States, then, have clearly accepted that great and broad legal power [the act of "Discovery"] by which its civilized inhabitants now control this country. They have and they exercise the rights to the land by which [the country] was acquired. They claim, as all others have claimed, that discovery gave them an exclusive legal authority to end, either by purchase or by war, the Indians' right to occupy the land; and [discovery] gave them also a right to whatever degree of government authority the circumstances of the people would allow them to exercise.

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A romantic depiction of the ideology of the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny .

George A. Crofutt, American Progress, ca. 1873. Chromolithograph after an 1872 oil painting by John Gast, courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-09855
Increased western settlement, a growing market for bison products, and the use of horses and firearms all contributed to the bison's near extinction in the nineteenth century. By the late 1800s, the railroad industry had also taken its toll; bison were viewed as a barrier to advancing travel westward and this justified their decimation. They were also intentionally slaughtered to impact the major food source of Plains tribes.

Bison skulls, ca. 1890. Photograph courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library,
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