Thursday, September 15, 2011

Headline: United States Fails in Honest Attempt to Help New York Indians

Native American activists have made the claim that the United States intentionally pitted the Menominee Indians against the New York Indians that wanted to emigrate to their country in the 1820's. I can see that. But as more research has been done and the details are spelled out more clearly by historians, I think it is more accurate to say that the United States government was just too sloppy, unorganized, and maybe even too incompetent to properly broker a legal arrangement between the two parties.

James Duane Doty was the federal judge who served as legal counsel on behalf of the Menominees in the Council of Butte des Morts in August, 1827. At issue then were the negotiations that had been made between the various tribes in 1821 and 1822. Doty would later go on to be the second Governor of the Wisconsin Territory (1841-1844) and the fifth Governor of the Utah Territtory (1863-1865).

In my last two posts, I have already made the point that in order to make a proper treaty, the official leaders of the parties involved must be present. And although you'd think that was something more basic than Diplomacy 101, somehow, despite the fact that the Menominees didn't have an official leader, treaties were still produced and signed.

I've mentioned the treaties made in 1821 and 1822 before (see "Negotiations and Arrivals" and see "Ellis Describes More Negotiations"). Those documents, of course, gave the Brothertown, Oneida and Stockbridge Indians the opportunity to move to what is now the state of Wisconsin. However, for good reasons, the two treaties were never ratified by Congress. According to the Milwaukee Public Museum, the opposition to the treaties from both the Menominee and the Ho-Chunk (or "Winnebago") Indians was what prevented their ratification. Congress somehow sensed that something was wrong back then, and thanks to the work of Brad Jarvis, The Brothertown Nation of Indians, we know a lot more about it.

Jarvis' sixth chapter (pages 179-215) is about the negotiations between the Wisconsin Indians and the New York Indians. The chapter title is "A Tedious, Perplexing and Harassing Dispute," if you've already read my NY Indian Removal series of posts I think you'll be able to read it without finding it tedious or perplexing.

How was the United States sloppy or even incompetent in assisting the New York Indians in purchasing land from the Wisconsin Natives? This quote may give you a good idea:

The United States had sent Charles Trowbridge, a young government surveyor, with the 1821 New York Indian delegation in order to keep a report of the council. Trowbridge's report...illustrates much of the confusion in the negotiations. Upon arrival in Green Bay the contingent from New York found both the agent and the interpreter absent. Despite the fact that the lack of a translator would prove difficult in negotiating a land cession, the New York Indians decided to proceed anyway (Jarvis, pages 198-199).
And later, Charles Trowbridge "stepped outside of his role as an observer and tried to convince the Ho-Chunks to cede the Menominee lands in place of the Menominee." (That's right, Trowbridge asked the Ho-Chunks to give away something that wasn't theirs to give.)

To say the least, the negotiations started off on the wrong foot.

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