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[Detail] Chilkat dancers, Alaska, 1895


Various opinions about how to deal with "The Indian Problem" resulted in the violence that decimated native populations. In the end, the United States' official strategy for dealing with "The Indian Problem" was to create reservations through treaties.

The collection provides a unique opportunity to closely examine treaties. A search on treaty provides seven examples, one of which is included in the article, "The Indian Treaty of Point No Point." All but one of the treaties were negotiated by Washington Territory's Governor Isaac I. Stevens in 1855. Articles such as "Lawyer of the Nez Perces," and "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest" provide a context for Stevens's "campaign of treaty-making."

  • Why were so many treaties made in the same year? What factors precipitated this "campaign of treaty-making?"
  • What events provided a precedent or basis for negotiating treaties?
  • Why did some people object to the idea of negotiating treaties with Native Americans?
  • What did the treaties provide and guarantee Native Americans?
  • What did Native Americans agree to by signing the treaties?
  • What relationship do the treaties establish between Native Americans and the United States government?
  • How much control did the treaties give Native Americans over their own land and lives? Who else was given this control?
  • How do you think treaties were meant to solve "The Indian Problem?" Who would have objected to this solution?

Various documents, including the reports of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and Indian Agents, indicate that problems persisted and complications arose after the establishment of treaties and reservations. Search on report, treaty, council, and reservation for pertinent materials.

  • What problems do Indian agents complain of? To what do they attribute these problems and what remedies do they suggest?
  • How did Native Americans feel about the reservation policy?
  • Did the use of treaties solve "The Indian Problem"? Why or why not?

Documents found under the Subject Index heading, Indians of North America – Legal status, laws, such as "Rights of the Puget Sound Indians to Game and Fish" indicate that further legislation was made to clarify the meaning and implementation of treaties. Changes and adjustments continued well into the 20th century. In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, providing for self-government on reservations. In his introductory essay (external link) in the Special Presentation (external link), David M. Buerge discusses the Indian Reorganization Act:

"The importance of this legislation underscores the extraordinary degree to which the lives of Native Americans and even their identities are defined by law and governmental decree. What is the legal definition of a Native American? Which law governs their actions? What rights do they have that are different from those of other Americans? The treaties stand as fundamental, often defining documents for native groups in the United States, as much or more than the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. . . While many citizens regard the treaties as hindering anachronisms, most Native Americans do not."