Edmunds – Treaty Research

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The treaties are really interesting in that they are written on two or three levels. And when you initially read through treaties you can say in this treaty an Indian tribe has given up this amount of land and the federal government is going to supply them with a certain amount of money, or promises, or annuities, etcetera. But sometimes when you read the treaties very carefully you find out that there are other things going on. A classic case of this is a treaty that took place at the Treaty of Grouseland between the Miamis and William Henry Harrison in the very early 1800s. In that treaty the Miamis gave up a section of southern Indiana, but in response the federal government guaranteed to the Miami the rest of the lands in the Wabash watershed. And of course, the Wabash drains Indiana, but it also drains Illinois.

Now, I know that William Henry Harrison assumed that he was going to be purchasing the rest of the lands from the Miami on a piecemeal basis through a series of treaties. And in the thirty years that follow the Treaty of Grouseland, Harrison and other federal officials did buy up the lands in Indiana. But they certainly forgot to buy the lands in Illinois. And those lands are also drained by the Wabash and that includes the entire campus at the University of Illinois and various and sundry other areas in eastern Illinois. And consequently, today there is a major Miami claim for some lands in eastern Illinois, the amount of lands that are drained by the Wabash watershed, but that includes the entire campus at the University of Illinois. It includes Danville, Illinois. It includes other lands over in that particular region. And we usually say that, that tribal people, or tribal governments, have a claim to lands, historical claim to lands, in two ways: one is aboriginal occupancy. And that is a situation which the tribes have historical presence there, either residency or use. And certainly the Miamis have a claim to eastern Illinois under those cases. We have good evidence of Miami tribal villages being in eastern Illinois and the Miamis hunting in the region.

Aboriginal occupancy means that a tribe has a claim to a region because historically they’ve lived in that region, or they have hunted and utilized it. It is not necessary for a tribe to, to have villages throughout an entire region to have a good claim to it, because they make use of it by hunting through it or by traveling around through it, and utilizing it for hunting and gathering, for fishing, etcetera. But that’s aboriginal occupancy: that is a region in which the Miamis or the Potawatomis or the Winnebagos (Ho-Chunks), have traditionally lived for a long period of time historically and we know they were there because they were encountered there, they have a tradition themselves, and the French or the British or the early American colonists encountered them there.

Old maps are very critical in this in that the big advantage of old maps is that very often in the treaties that are made there will be references to particular creeks or rivers or landmarks or even lakes which are known by different names back in the 1800s or the 1700s than we know them now. And consequently, when we look at the treaties it will refer to so-and-so’s creek, and you think, well, there’s no creek on a modern road map that is known by that name, but if you look at the maps then you can really see exactly to what they’re referring.

The second major claim to regions are statutory, and in these claims, the federal government acknowledges through a treaty that a particular Indian tribe has a right to a particular area. Very often a tribe will grant lands in Ohio, for example, and in response the federal government will say, well, everything north and west of the Greenville Treaty line now belongs to tribal people because you have given up your claims to everything south and east of that line. So in that case then the tribes who were living in the area said, well, we have a claim there because you say we have a claim there.

In this case the Miamis have a dual claim here, because not only do they have original occupancy—aboriginal occupancy—but they also do have a statutory claim. And in the 21st century some non-Indians have said, well, those treaties were signed back in the 1830s, 1840s. How valid are they in the twenty-first century? But I think tribal people would say, well, in response to that, we granted, we gave up our claims to certain sections of Wisconsin, or Illinois, or Michigan, or Indiana, and in response the federal government promised these things. Now, if you want to renege on your promises, that’s fine, but then just give us the land back.

My name is Dave Edmunds. I’m the Watson Professor of History at the University of Texas in Dallas. I’m interested in the tribal people of the Midwest. I’m interested in Native American biography.

Production credits:

Executive Producer, Loretta Fowler
Assistant Producer, Brian Mornar
Production by Mike Media Group

Photo credits:

Grouseland Treaty – courtesy of Wikipedia
William Henry Harrison – courtesy of Wikipedia/Jappalang
University of Illinois campus – courtesy of Wikipedia Commons/Michael Kessler
Potawatomi hunting camp – courtesy of Tippecanoe County Historical Association
Map detail: Nicholas de Fer, Le Cours de Missisipi, 1718 (Newberry Library, Ayer 133 F34 1718)
Grouseland Monument – photo courtesy of Miami County Historical Society

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