November is National Native American Heritage Month! Visit our web page for resources on related records and how we are commemorating the month. Today’s post comes from Becca Watford from the National Archives History Office.
Every few months the National Archives lends a treaty negotiated between the United States and Native Americans to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for display in its “Nation to Nation” exhibit. The National Archives—which holds the treaties—has had this relationship with the museum since 2014.
On September 19, 2017, the two institutions replaced the Treaty of Medicine Creek of 1854 with the Fort Wayne Treaty of 1809.
The Fort Wayne Treaty of 1809 was an agreement between the United States and the Delaware, Potawatomi, Miami, and Eel River tribes, ceding tribal territory to the U.S. Government. This treaty, along with 11 others, was negotiated by future President William Henry Harrison. The U.S. Government and Native Americans hoped these treaties would end tribal conflicts throughout the region.
Harrison is said to have believed in the justice and fairness of the treaty; however, the treaty angered Shawnee Chief Tecumseh—whose tribe was not included in negotiations. Tecumseh questioned whether these tribes even had authority to make the treaty and reportedly threatened the chiefs and Harrison for signing it. It was a major catalyst for his fight against the United States’ westward expansion movement and ultimately war with the United States, known as “Tecumseh’s War.”
On September 19, 2017, Potawatomi representatives Wayne (Alex) Wesaw, Tribal Council Member; John P. Warren, Tribal Council Chairman; Judy Winchester, Tribal Council Elders Representative; Jason S. Wesaw, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer; and Robert (Bob) Moody, Jr., Tribal Council Vice-Chairman visited the National Museum of the American Indian to view the treaty before it was put on display.
First staff from the museum, staff from the National Archives, and the tribal representatives viewed the treaty in the lab.
The treaty was then taken upstairs and installed into a place of honor in the exhibit, where other treaties have been displayed. A Smithsonian staff member spoke about treaty’s history and the Tribal Councilman Chair spoke about what it meant to him to see the treaty in-person and on display. They stood around the treaty and remembered their ancestors while an NMAI staff member sang a Chief’s Song.
When this treaty was signed on September 30, 1809, it was supposed to end tribal fights and tensions, but it actually led to worsened conditions for settlers and the American Indians.
Later that day, Councilman Alex Wesaw visited the National Archives Conservation Lab and viewed other treaties that have either been on display at one time or will be on display in the future. He met David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and spoke about how much it meant to him to view his tribe’s history.
If you would like to see the treaty in person, visit it the National Museum of the American Indian’s “Nations to Nations” exhibit through January 2018.
The National Archives holds 370 ratified American Indian treaties which the State Department transferred to us in the late 1930s. Visit our Native American Heritage webpage for more information on viewing these treaties.