Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Michigan Humanities Council Awards Exhibit Grant to Clarke Historical Library

by Frank Boles

The Michigan Humanities Council has awarded the Clarke Library $25,000 to develop and present an exhibit, beginning in February 2016, regarding Native American treaty rights and their application in contemporary Michigan.

View of the Great Treaty Held at Prarie du Chien, September 1825 by J. O. Lewis
The goal of the exhibit is to increase understanding of Native American treaty rights specifically (and Native American culture generally) through information about and dialog on selected examples of treaties to which Michigan tribes were signatories. The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways, the historical agency within the Saginaw-Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, will partner with the Clarke Historical Library in developing this exhibit. CMU’s Native American Programs Office will also be involved.

The mutual rights and obligations created by treaties between Native American tribes and the Federal Government are poorly understood. Non-Native Americans often view treaties as “contracts,” a legal agreement that is “once and done.” From this perspective, some believe contemporary Native Americans receive privileges or benefits to which they are not “entitled” or which are “unfair.”

Treaties, however, created not just an agreement at the time of their signing, but an accord that was not time-bound - in other words an ongoing relationship across generations. In return for certain fundamental concessions (usually land over which the Native American community held sovereignty and which could not be settled legally until that claim was “extinguished”), certain benefits or privileges were granted “in perpetuity” to those who signed the treaties and to their heirs. The mutual set of benefits and obligations are spelled out in treaties between the Federal Government and Native American tribes.

Through the use of Michigan-based examples, the exhibit’s goal is to create - within the Clarke, through a traveling exhibit, through web-based material, and through a public dialog - a better general understanding regarding what treaties are and the ongoing and permanent commitments made through treaties by the United States and its citizens to the Native American tribes and their members.