2016-10-06 / Front Page

Native Treaty Display Coming

By Erich T. Doerr


A Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library exhibit, “Native Treaties – Shared Rights,” will be displayed at the Mackinaw Area Public Library later this month. The six-panel display includes information about the signing of treaties between the American government and native tribes, leading into how those agreements remain very relevant today. This image (left) reproduced in the display portrays the treaty grounds in Wisconsin where the Treaty of Prarie Du Chien was signed in 1825. No period images exist for what similar treaty sites in Michigan looked like. (Image courtesy of Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library) A Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library exhibit, “Native Treaties – Shared Rights,” will be displayed at the Mackinaw Area Public Library later this month. The six-panel display includes information about the signing of treaties between the American government and native tribes, leading into how those agreements remain very relevant today. This image (left) reproduced in the display portrays the treaty grounds in Wisconsin where the Treaty of Prarie Du Chien was signed in 1825. No period images exist for what similar treaty sites in Michigan looked like. (Image courtesy of Central Michigan University Clarke Historical Library) An exhibit focusing on Native American treaties from the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University will be at the Mackinaw Area Public Library in Mackinaw City for two weeks, from Saturday, October 15, through Monday, October 31. The exhibit is titled “Native Treaties – Shared Rights.”

“I’m really excited to be able to offer this exhibit to our community,” Mackinaw City library director Jolene Michaels said. “Normally the library wouldn’t have the resources to put together something like this.”

The display includes six panels explaining what treaties are, their histories, and the ways they remain relevant today. The last panels explore how Michigan’s indigenous population has been able to use the treaties to reassert their rights in modern times. The exhibit does not include any artifacts or copies of the treaties, as all of the actual treaties are maintained in Washington, D.C. The exhibit will be set up in the Michigan Room, and, because of their size, some panels may be displayed in the main library area.

The treaties “still have a legal and ethical relevance in the 21st century,” said Frank Boles, the Clarke Historical Library director.

The treaties detailed in the exhibit focus on arrangements between Michigan’s tribes and the United States government, usually trading land for new settlements in exchange for compensation to the tribe. Some treaties, but not all, guaranteed tribes certain rights in perpetuity.

“These represent a very difficult period of transition,” Mr. Boles said of the treaties. “It was their land, and thousands, if not millions, of white settlers arrived… These treaties set up the rules that are still in use today.”

The early treaties helped settlements take place peacefully, but the incoming European settlers later violated almost all of them, illegally taking additional land from tribes over the years. The exhibit then moves forward into the 1970s, when tribes came into conflict with the state of Michigan over fishing and hunting rights, reasserting in court that the rights guaranteed to them by the treaties allowed them to hunt and fish as they pleased. Some of the decisive conflicts of that time took place here in the Straits of Mackinac and surrounding areas and involved local people. The tribes won the argument in federal court in 1979. Michigan and the tribes worked together afterward to agree on which areas of the lakes would be used for native commercial fishing which would be set aside for sport fishing.

“These are still important to our state,” Ms. Michaels said, noting these treaties guarantee tribes will be able to assert their rights when needed.

The exhibit concludes with a look at the right to a university education guaranteed by the treaties. One such case in the 1960s attempted to use a treaty from 1817 to require the University of Michigan to provide some Native Americans with a free education. The case lost in a federal court in 1974, but it brought attention to the issue and the feeling that Michigan let down native residents on the promise of an education, which led to meaningful actions to correct it. In 1976, Michigan legislators passed Public Act 174 and created the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver program, guaranteeing Native Americans free tuition at any of Michigan’s 15 public universities or public or triballyrun community colleges.

The treaty exhibit marks the first time the Mackinaw City library has partnered with CMU for a historical display. The historical library and the Michigan Humanities Council fund the travelling exhibit. Two sets of the exhibit’s display panels have been made and are circulating throughout Michigan this year. It has already been displayed at CMU and Northern Michigan University, plus libraries in Charlotte, Grant, Jonesville, and Munising. The exhibit will travel to Hartland, Lansing, and Jackson after its stop in Mackinaw City. There will be a lecture program at the library about the treaties Friday, October 21, at 4 p.m. tying in with the exhibit.

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