Treaties Past

The new United States government followed the British tradition in its relations with Indian Nations: treaties with Indians had the same force as with foreign nations and aboriginal title was recognized and land obtained through purchase. The 13 original states that formed a compact in 1781 signed treaties for peace and alliance. In 1789, the United States became the authorized party and continued to negotiate treaties of peace and protection with tribes. In the 18th century, American leaders beginning with George Washington decided to compensate Indians for “land cessions” rather than to attempt expensive and difficult wars. As the years progressed, the U. S. signed many treaties through which Indians ceded land in return for guarantees of reserved lands, continual rights to use resources in their homeland, and payment in the form of goods and services. As settlers pushed into Indian country, the U. S. negotiated treaties of “removal” in which some tribes agreed to exchange their land for other land farther west. Other treaties were negotiated in which the size of reservations was reduced.

What happened during the treaty negotiations?

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From the perspective of Indians, these treaties were a means of preserving themselves as a people. They gave treaties the same symbolic significance that Americans gave other charters of freedom, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. As time passed, leaders, shocked by what they saw as treaty violations by the United States, had to address their followers’ views about these treaties: that interpreters had misrepresented terms, treaties sometimes were signed by people without authority to do so, verbal promises were not always represented in the written documents, treaties often were coerced, and politicians in Washington sometimes arbitrarily altered treaties signed in councils elsewhere.

Who were some of the important leaders during the treaty era?

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