A Chippewa Treaty

A treaty is an agreement between two or more sovereign nations. Under the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, Indian tribes are legally considered to be nations. During the nineteenth century, the United States government negotiated a number of treaties with Indian nations. While often called “peace treaties,” these treaties were not about ending wars and often they were negotiated with Indian nations considered American allies. While the treaties proclaimed eternal peace between the Indians and the United States, the real purpose of the treaties was to obtain land which could then be given to non-Indian settlers.

In negotiating Indian treaties, American negotiators usually showed great ignorance about American Indian governments and often failed to recognize what really constituted a sovereign nation and what did not.  Since they preferred to deal with fewer tribes, they arbitrarily grouped sovereign entities together and unilaterally declared them to be a single nation. They also preferred to deal with dictatorships rather than democracies and preferred to support and create dictatorships.

In 1837, some 1,200 Chippewa gathered for a treaty conference with the United States in Minnesota. Under the proposed treaty—proposed by the United States, not the Chippewa—the Chippewa were to give up their claim to the St. Croix Valley of Minnesota and their rights to much of northwestern Wisconsin.

The area in question had been over-hunted thus its value to the Chippewa had been reduced.  In addition, the ongoing war between the Chippewa and the Sioux, which had resulted in many Sioux bands migrating out into the Great Plains of the Dakotas, had made the area dangerous for Chippewa hunters.

In exchange for the ceded lands, the Chippewa were to receive annually for 20 years: $9,500 in cash, $19,000 in goods, $3,000 for a blacksmith, $1,000 for farmers, $2,000 in provisions, and $500 in tobacco. In addition, $70,000 was to be paid to traders to “liquidate certain claims against the Indians” and $100,000 to be paid to “the half-breeds of the Chippewa nation.” Chief Flat Mouth protested the payment to the traders arguing that many of the debtors had been killed by the Sioux while on excursions for the traders. He also pointed out that the Americans had taken fish from the lakes and streams and had harvested timber from the woods without paying the Indians. For the United States, however, corporate interests such as those of the trading companies also outweighed any concern for individual interests.

The Treaty with the Chippewa states:  “The privilege of hunting, fishing, and gathering the wild rice, upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded, is guaranteed to the Indians, during the pleasure of the President of the United States.”

Chiefs Hole-in-the-Day and La Trappe expressed some concerns about their rights. La Trappe told the Americans: “We wish to hold on to a tree where we get our living, & to reserve the streams where we drink the waters that give us life”

In the treaty, there was no distinction between the various bands. The treaty ignored the political reality of the Chippewa – that they were not a single nation, but are several autonomous bands – and referred to them as a single nation.

Looking for a Home in the 20th Century

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were a number of Indian groups (bands, tribes, or nations) that did not have formal relations with the United States government. Without formal recognition from the United States, these groups did not have reservations and were thus considered “landless” Indians. In Montana, there were several groups of landless Indians who wandered throughout the state, living through temporary jobs and hunting (including poaching). During the early twentieth century, some of the Chippewa and Cree bands were successful in obtaining a new reservation in Montana in spite of opposition by many non-Indians.  

In 1902, Chippewa leader Stone Child (also known as Rocky Boy) hired an attorney to write a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt asking that his people be given a home or reservation. In the letter, he indicated that there were 130 people in his band, that they were all American-born, and they were self-supporting. It is apparent that Stone Child wanted to give federal officials the impression that his followers were hard-working, deserving Indians. To end their current hardship, they needed land. While Stone Child claimed that all of his people were American born, in all likelihood his people included Chippewa and Métis who had been born in Canada and who had come to the United States following the Riel Rebellion to escape Canadian retribution.

Rocky Boy

In 1903, a special Indian agent recommended that the landless Chippewa under the leadership of Stone Child (Rocky Boy) be placed on the Flathead Reservation. This action was favored by both the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the Secretary of the Interior, and a bill was introduced in Congress to that effect. However, this action was opposed by Montana Republican Joseph Dixon who wanted to open up the Flathead Reservation for the benefit of non-Indian interests (and to enrich himself in the process). The bill did not pass.

In 1905, Stone Child (Rocky Boy) continued to advocate a Montana home for his people. His band camped at the base of Mount Jumbo near Missoula for several days while he talked with Joseph Dixon, the Congressman who opposed the settlement of the Chippewa on the Flathead Reservation.

The following year, members of the landless Cree and Chippewa bands met with writer Frank Bird Linderman and told him about their desperate condition. They did not have a reservation and had no consistent way to feed themselves. They told him that they had been living on the outskirts of Helena, living on slaughterhouse offal and the town’s garbage.

In 1908, writer Linderman and William Boles, the editor and owner of the Great Falls Tribune began a campaign to convince congress to create a reservation for the landless Cree and Chippewa bands. These men understood that many Montanans, if not most, would be opposed to the creation of another Indian reservation in the state. Their strategy involved a letter-writing campaign targeted at politicians. Artist Charles Russell began to raise money for the Indians and wrote letters in support of the reservation.

Congressman Joseph Dixon wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs regarding Rocky Boy’s (Stone Child’s) band of Chippewa and asked for aid on their behalf. The Indian agent for the Flathead Reservation was sent to investigate their condition and reported that many of the band were actually Canadian Cree.

While congress appropriated $30,000 to establish a home for the Cree and Chippewa, the reservation failed to materialize and the bands continued to wander across the state.  

In 1908, about 100 people from Stone Child’s Chippewa band were moved by railroad boxcars to an area around Saint Mary’s Lake near the Blackfeet Reservation. A food-for-allotted-land deal had been supposedly made which opened up 101 allotments for the landless Chippewa. While the landless Indians had been told that the details for the deal had been worked out with the federal government, actually there had never been any such agreement.

In 1909, the federal government determined that there were 120 American-born Indians in the Chippewa band led by Stone Child. Indian Office officials began to survey lands in Valley County for allotments under the General Allotment Act (Dawes Act). However, non-Indians soon objected to relocating the Chippewa in Valley County. Among those who objected with Louis Hill, the owner of the Great Northern Railroad. As usual, when wealthy business owners complain, the government listens and responds. As a result, work on the allotment survey was stopped. While the Indian Office was supposed to serve as the guardian to American Indians, it was in reality more responsive to political pressure from politicians and business interests.

The government relocated landless Cree and Chippewa to Babb, Montana on the Blackfoot Nation in 1910. The government then ordered the land to be surveyed so that it could be allotted to the Cree and Chippewa. The Blackfoot were not consulted about either the relocation or the allotment of their tribal lands.

About 50 Chippewa under the leadership of Stone Child accepted allotments. While Stone Child remained at Babb to take up farming, 150 Chippewa camped near Helena and the Cree under Little Bear returned to the Havre area.

In 1911, the Army announced plans to abandon Fort Assiniboine near the town of Havre. Chippewa leader Full-of-Dew, Cree leader Little Bear, and writer Frank Bird Linderman began a campaign to turn the old fort over to the landless Cree and Chippewa bands as a reservation. The plan was strongly opposed in Havre where the local paper ridiculed Linderman for having a romantic and unrealistic notion of Indians.

In 1912, Fred A. Baker, a superintendent of Indian Schools, was assigned the task of finding lands for the landless Chippewa and Cree. Baker, like most Americans at this time, strongly believed that American Indians should be assimilated into American culture. Assimilation, Baker and other officials in the Indian Office felt, had to be accomplished by transforming Indians into rural subsistence farmers, even though this type of farming was not economically feasible in the urban, market economy that was essential to American culture and life in the early twentieth century.

Baker held a council with Chippewa leader Stone Child, Cree leader Little Bear, and others at the Independence Day Celebration on the Blackfeet Reservation. He then held a separate meeting with Blackfoot leaders. From these two councils, it was clear that neither group favored a plan which called for the Chippewa and Cree to be placed permanently on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Little Bear

Baker visited the Fort Assiniboine Military Reservation after talking with Little Bear who told him that his people had periodically lived in the area. He concluded that the landless Chippewa and Cree should be given a small reservation within the confines of the abandoned Fort Assiniboine Military Reservation. Baker felt that a small reservation would be the first step toward assimilation and that it would remove poverty-stricken Indians from the vicinity of Montana towns.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order to create a reservation for the landless Chippewa under the leadership of Stone Child and the landless Cree under the leadership of Little Bear. The tribes were given part of the former Fort Assiniboine and an 8,800 acre park was placed between the tribes and the city of Havre.

Stone Child died of tuberculosis at the age of 70 shortly before the new reservation for his people was created. The new reservation was named Rocky Boy in his honor. Only about 450 Indians, about half of those eligible, chose to settle on the reservation.

Anishinabe Dreams

( – promoted by navajo)

Dreams and visions are an important part of Native American spiritual life. Traditionally dreams were an essential conduit for communication with the supernatural world. Dreams served as a validation of one’s spiritual condition. Therefore, from an early age, American Indian children learned to remember their dreams. These dreams could then be interpreted by the tribal elders. The manitous revealed in the dreams would guide the dreamer to wisdom. While these manitous are often called Guardian Spirits, they are more accurately described as Tutelary Spirits.

According to Anishinabe or Ojibwa spiritual teachings, human beings have two souls, one of which travels at night and lives the dreams. With two souls, human beings can communicate with both the spirits and the souls of non-human persons. From an Anishinabe perspective, it is the soul that dreams the dreams, not the body or the mind. During the dream, the soul may travel all over the world.  

Throughout North America, people from various tribes would engage in vision quests to obtain spiritual power. The vision quest would often entail going to a remote spiritual location and remaining there while fasting. Among the Ojibwa, children would start fasting for visions at age four or five. At first they would go into the woods and spend a day without food or water while waiting for their visions. Later, they would spend four or more days at a time fasting and waiting for their visions to come to them. Both boys and girls would seek visions.

For the first vision quest among Ojibwa children, the face and arms are blackened with ash and then the child is taken to the Place of Visions. This is usually a location which is felt to be unnatural, a place formed by neither humans nor nature. On the occasion of the vision quest the spirits would welcome human visitors to this place. After making an offering of tobacco and asking the spirits to bring a vision to the child, the parent leaves. For a number of days the child waits alone, waiting for a vision.

The vision often comes in the form of a particular animal who gives special instructions on how to live, teaches special songs, and shows how to use special medicines. This animal or guardian spirit becomes the person’s personal Manitou. Often the person then carries a representation of this spirit which represents the essences of the spiritual power. Using this representation, an individual can call on the guardian spirit for assistance, guidance and protection.  

At the time of creation, all animals were given the gift of knowing the future. Thus, individuals could call upon their guardian spirits to help them understand the future. In traditional Anishinabe cultures, prior to European contact, this would most frequently involve knowing the location of game so that the hunt would be successful.

At the time of creation, each animal was given a special gift. Thus when an animal spirit comes to a human during a dream or vision quest, the animal may share this gift with the human. While there are a number of non-Indians today who have written about the nature of the special gifts to the animal spirits, from a traditional perspective, knowledge of the animal’s gift comes only from the animal spirit, never from a human being.

At the time of creation, the plant people were given the gift of healing. In some instances, humans may be visited by one or more of the plant people in their dreams. These people often become healers.