Native American Treaties


Treaties between the United States and Native American Tribes

This is just a sampling from the hundreds of treaties made with the 500+ United States Tribes.  Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority do NOT say benefits will continue “as long as the grass grows.”  Most say financial recompense and other benefits were to end in many cases after twenty to forty-six years.  References to perpetuity appear to primarily refer to peace between the United States and the tribe.  Many of the treaties simply define the land as ceded, or describe the buildings and supplies to be awarded.  Others say hunting and fishing rights are to be “in common” with all United States citizens, the federal government has a right to make roads through the reservation, and non-tribal members have free access to travel within reservation boundaries without disturbance.   (See the Treaty with the Flatheads, etc. 1855. (Hellgate Treaty) ).

We encourage you to look up the treaties pertaining to your area and read them to ensure what is actually said.  We leave it to you to decide if Treaties have been upheld or not – and what each side has done or not done to uphold them.

Lastly, the claim that tribal leaders who signed the treaties did not know what they were signing is an insult to the intelligence of tribal leaders at that time.  It is also an insult to the integrity and character of the federal officials who sat down with tribal leaders to talk about the treaties.  Many of those officials were, in fact, good men.  Those who make the claim otherwise have no solid evidence that tribal leaders did not know what they were signing, and are actually degrading and belittling their elders – who were much more aware of what was factually going on at the time then their present day counterparts.

There is also no evidence that every federal official was racist.  Many were not.  Fact: In the 1850’s, a large number of United States citizens worked very hard to end slavery because they knew it was evil.  These good citizens truly believed that all men are created equal – and their side won the ensuing war. There are many who stood for what is right and true.

There were good people of all heritages, misunderstood people of all heritages, and people who simply – yet innocently – march to a different drummer.

Another example of a citizen running contrary to the narrative of some current tribal leaders is Charles Curtis, an American attorney and Republican who was an enrolled member of the Kaw nation. His great-great grandfather was White Plume, a Kansa-Kaw chief who had offered assistance to the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. Charles Curtis was born in Kansas when it was just a territory and spoke French and Kansa before he learned English. At the age of 6, an orphan, he went to live with his maternal grandparents on the Kaw reservation at Council Grove.  When he was nine, he returned to live with his paternal grandparents in Topeka. Curtis was first elected as a United States Representative – then repeatedly re-elected as a U.S. Senator. He was also chosen as the Senate Majority Leader by his Republican colleagues. He became the 31st Vice President of the United States in 1929, beside President Herbert Hoover.

With brilliant mind and charismatic personality, he worked his way from, as he said, “Kaw tepee to Capitol.” This flies in the face of assumptions that forebears of tribal heritage had no idea what they were doing. Albeit some of Curtis’ motivation seemed to come at times from self-interest, the same can be said of Michel Pablo, honored ancestor on the Flatead Reservation, who said in the early 1900’s that he “saw where he could sell his buffalo to parks and museums and make a good thing of them.” An insightful businessman, he died wealthy as a result of Bison sales to Canada.

The reality is not all tribal members fit the narrative many current tribal leaders circulate.   From – 

“In 1871, grandfather William Curtis brought suit on behalf of Charley and his sister Elizabeth to establish their claim, over that of their father, for title to their mother’s share of the Half-Breed Lands in North Topeka.”  ” …Grandfather Curtis wanted Charley to stop racing and go back to school, but after his grandfather’s death in 1873, the boy set out to join his other grandparents, Louis and Julie Pappan, who were traveling with the Kaw Tribe from Kansas to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. Still on the tribal roll, and “longing for the old life,” he wanted to live on the reservation. Grandmother Julie talked him out of it. She invited him to her wagon and asked why he wanted to go to the Indian Territory. While she would have liked nothing better than to have him live with her, she told him that on the reservation he would end up “like most of the men on it,” without an education or future prospects. If Charley expected to make something of himself, he should return to Topeka and attend school. “I took her splendid advice and the next morning as the wagons pulled out for the south, bound for Indian Territory, I mounted my pony and with my belongings in a flour sack, returned to Topeka and school,” Curtis recounted. “No man or boy ever received better advice, it was the turning point in my life.” “

“Curtis had in fact a considerable inheritance in land in North Topeka. The young lawyer plunged into real estate, selling lots and building houses. He also opened his own firm and practiced criminal law.”

As a member of Congress, “Curtis devoted most of his attention to his service on the Committee on Indian Affairs, where he drafted the “Curtis Act” in 1898. Entitled “An Act for the Protection of the People of the Indian Territory and for Other Purposes,” the Curtis Act overturned many treaty rights by allocating federal lands, abolishing tribal courts, and giving the Interior Department control over mineral leases on Indian lands.”

In his defense, the bill, HR 8581, had gone through five committee revisions in both House and Senate, leaving little of his original draft. Curtis later noted in his autobiography that he was unhappy with the final version. He believed the Five Civilized Tribes needed to make changes and embrace education as well as the best from all cultures. After all – from personal experience, education and working within the majority culture was extremely beneficial. However, he also had hoped to give more support to transition.

“Having reinstated his name on the Kaw tribal rolls in 1889, Curtis was able, through his position on the House Indian Affairs Committee, to calculate the benefits he might receive from government allotments to his tribe. In 1902, he drafted the Kaw Allotment Act under which he and his children received fee simple title to Kaw land in Oklahoma.”

“No one ever accused him of being a Progressive,” wrote one Washington correspondent, “but the feminists nevertheless called him friend, and it is one of the proudest of his claims that he led the floor fight for the Nineteenth Amendment,” granting women the right to vote.

A sampling of treaties through the years…

Federal effort to put disagreements to rest: 

Indian Claims Commission

Established: As an independent agency by an act of August 13, 1946 (60 Stat. 1049).

Functions: Heard and determined claims against the United States on behalf of any tribe, band, or other identifiable group of American Indians residing in the United States and filed within 5 years of the passage of the establishing act.

Indian Claims Commission

(reprinted from the February 1997 issue of “The Resource”.)

In 1946, Congress enacted the single, most significant piece of legislation since the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. It was called the Indian Claims Commission and its purpose was to dispose of the Indian claims problem with finality.

The Commission was set up to receive claims for a period of five years after August 13, 1946, and no claim existing before that date, and not presented within the 5-year period could be submitted to any court or administrative agency for consideration. Nor could any such claim later be entertained by Congress.

This precise statutory language reflects Congress’ intention to provide a one time, exclusive forum for the resolution of Indian Treaty claims. Eight hundred and fifty two claims were filed with the Commission before the 1951 deadline, which became 370 different dockets or cases. The Indian Claims Commission Act was the culmination of a long effort by Indian Tribes to secure the right to bring actions against the United States on their many grievances.
The Indian Claims Commission Act provided that when the commission had filed its final report on a case, the decision of the commission shall have the same effect as a final judgement of the Court of Claims. The United States Supreme Court has cited Indian Claims Commission payments in denying Indian Claims in many recent rulings.

  • 279.2 GENERAL RECORDS 1946-78
  • 279.3 CASE FILES 1946-83

Indian Claims Commission Decisions