July 23, 1851
“Suppose your Great Father wanted your lands and did not want a treaty for your good, he could come with 100,000 men and drive you off to the Rocky Mountains.” *
Luke Lea, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, at treaty signing
Facing mounting debts to fur traders and the pressure of settlers pouring into the newly established Minnesota Territory, the Dakota leaders reluctantly sign treaties, hoping that government promises of reservations and annuities will provide a secure future for their people. Powerful and influential fur traders coerce the Dakota into giving up their land in exchange for promises of cash, goods, annuities, and education. “The Indians are prepared to make a treaty when we tell them to do so,” said Henry Sibley. “No treaty can be made without our claims being first secured.”
Luke Lea, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and Minnesota territorial governor Alexander Ramsey negotiate separate treaties with the Upper and Lower Dakota Bands. In July they meet with the Upper Bands (Sisseton and Wahpeton) at Traverse des Sioux. After several weeks of discussions and threats, the Upper Bands relinquish their claims to all Minnesota lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for an immediate cash payment of $305,000 and annuity payments in goods, food, education, and gold. The treaty also provides for a reservation along the upper Minnesota River. Thinking they are endorsing a third copy of the treaty, the Dakota leaders sign “Traders’ Papers,” illegal documents drafted by the traders themselves. The documents promise much of the $305,000 cash payment to the traders to fulfill “just obligations.”
In August the commissioners begin negotiations with the Lower Bands at Mendota. The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute are pressured into agreeing to terms similar to those forced on the Upper Bands, including $220,000 in upfront cash to the fur traders. Both treaties promise the Dakota new reservations along the Minnesota River “in perpetuity,” a pledge that will not be kept.
“But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” Exodus 11:7
Sweet Holy Ghost, I really do not relish writing today, especially for such a time as this in our state’s memory. Will You lead me, perhaps give me insights, and the courage to pray for this moment of contention? Through Your amazing kindness for the brokeness of humankind, I invite You to come watch this treaty!
I do offer real thanks for the promise that the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux offered. There was a chance to make things clear, put things in writing, and have an agreement that honored both sides. Thanks for this chance to become better neighbors, even if it was squandered.
This what I see today, the Upper and Lower Dakota Bands were willing to concede land if the end result was a stable and secure future. I see them extending these concessions in good faith and a real sense of relationship. What is also clear is that Luke Lea, Sibley, Ramsey, and the fur traders’ lobby were used to getting their way. Their quotes suggest an attitude of dominance and willingness to exert power.
This is my confession to You today Wise Counselor: will You forgive these grievous sins made through Luke Lea, Henry Sibley, Alexander Ramsey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs towards these specific peoples, tribes, first nations; the Sisseton, the Wahpeton, Mdewakanton, and the Wahpekute? Will You lift the weight of this robbery from their shoulders, and restore their inheritance?
More specifically, will You forgive the spirit of deception behind the “Traders Papers”, and the damage it did both relationally and economically to these tribes?
Will You forgive the horror of our offense to You, done in the name of our state, it’s officers, and any other duplicitous parties? Have mercy on these “Traitors Papers”!
We also offend You, Great Spirit, when we answer offense with counter offense. Will You forgive the Sisseton, Wahpeton, Mdwakanton, and Wahpekute any counter-judgments against the same offending parties, whether named; Lea, Sibley, Ramsey, or the B.I.A., or unnamed, the authors of the “Traders Papers”? May these peoples receive mercy so they do not carry this offense generationally in their hearts, and become doubly wronged?
That said, will You make a difference between the righteous and the unrighteous? As Abraham asked of You, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?…Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Of Course You Will!
I praise You that You allow each generation the fruits of their choices! You allow humans to be temporarily wronged by the short-sighted, but these ill-gotten gains will bring separation and destruction. May all such devious treaties ring hollow throughout the history of Minnesota!