How We Know

The courts have relied on the work of scholars in deciding treaty rights cases such as those dealing with hunting and fishing. This is because scholars are trained to research and interpret the historical context in which treaties were negotiated and the perspective of Indian participants in treaty councils. For example, historian Helen Tanner did research and testified in the Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band case. At issue was whether or not the Indians believed the 1855 treaty affected their rights to hunt, fish, and gather on ceded lands. Working with documents from the National Archives in Washington DC, Tanner studied the handwritten notes taken during the treaty council. She demonstrated that all parties viewed this treaty solely as a land sale. In other words, they made no mention of ceding their hunting and fishing rights. Moreover, Tanner used these proceedings and a historical atlas of the state of Minnesota, published in 1874, to document that non-Natives, including political leaders, acknowledged hunting and ricing to be a continuing part of the lifestyle of Natives. In fact, this lifestyle was important to the economy of non-Natives in Minnesota at the time.

The work of scholars also enables us to understand how and why natural resources are used in different ways at various times by different peoples. For example, archaeologists study how technologies develop through time and how changing technologies are related to population size and to the ways people interact socially.

Anthropologists also try to understand how living peoples perceive and interact with their environment. In this kind of research, anthropologists observe what people do, for example, when they fish, hunt, or engage in other occupations. And they learn about attitudes and values from listening to what people say in various kinds of social situations. In the late 19th and early 20th century, many anthropologists obtained information about subsistence activity in the past by interviewing elderly people. Anthropologist Larry Nesper wanted to understand how the people at Lac du Flambeau viewed hunting and fishing and what the fishing rights struggle meant to the contemporary Ojibwa.

Listen to Larry Nesper discuss how he learned about the meaning of hunting and fishing. Help

5:30 mi.

Video Transcript

Do you want to do some research on your own?

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