I meant to visit a few Red Lake businesses on Oct. 2 and I found that no one was home. Then I remembered that it was a holiday for Red Lake. It should have been for the rest of the state as well and, perhaps, the nation.
The Red Lake Tribal Council voted unanimously on Sept. 10, 2013, to establish a Red Lake Nation tribal holiday, "Old Crossing Treaty Day," to commemorate the treaty between the United States and the Red Lake Nation. The treaty was signed 150 years ago on Oct. 2, 1863.
In 1863, the Red Lake and Pembina bands of the Chippewa Indians signed a treaty with the United States government at the Old Crossing in northwest Minnesota whereby the vast tract of land known as the Red River Valley was ceded to the United States government. The signatures of President Abraham Lincoln and territorial Gov. Alexander Ramsey appeared on the treaty.
Why should we remember this day? The Red Lake Nation News reported, “Parking spots were in short supply at the Red Lake Humanities Center on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. At the celebration, then Chairman Floyd Jourdain, Jr. said, “One hundred fifty years ago on October 2, 1863, the Pembina and Red Lake Bands of Ojibwe signed a treaty with the United States contributing 11 million acres of pristine agriculture land and forests to the United States, . . . Look what we gifted!”
Yes, it was quite a gift. The ceded land was approximately 180 miles long and 127 miles wide. This square acreage was larger than the individual states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Rhode Island.
Consider how much the communities, citizens, farmers, businesses that now occupy this land have profited from this gift that was once called the “bread and butter basket” of the nation. Can we even stretch our imagination to consider how much this bargain of all bargains have helped not only United States citizens but people throughout the world?
I am not an expert when it comes to Native American treaties but I can’t imagine there were few treaties, if any, that were worth more to the United States than the Old Crossing Treaty. And what a bargain it was. For the 11 million acres, the United States government paid $500,000.
We can better understand one of the U.S. government’s motives for acquiring this land in a quote from an original program of the Old Crossing Treaty Memorial. The memorial event was held on June 25, 1933. At this event, a letter was read from Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur. He said, “The policy of the government looks toward the disappearance of these reservations as rapidly as the Indians can be absorbed into the general population. It has become obvious that the red man eventually must lose his identity in the deluge of the whites and pass through the melting pot and become as are the rest of us. From a sentimental standpoint there is much to regret in this fact but it is none the less inevitable.”
Eliminating reservations was the intent of the government at the time. This meant eliminating land and culture, Native languages and ways of life known to millions of people for hundreds of years. You might say it was a subliminal genocide of Native people.
It was out of distrust that the Red Lake Chief May-dwa-gun-on-ind initially refused to sign the treaty. When the Red Lake Chiefs reassembled at the Old Crossing, Chief May-dwa-gun-on-ind was not present. Red Lake Chief Mons-o-Mo (Moosedung) was said to have been the first Chief to “touch the pen” and was followed by other Chiefs, thereby making the treaty official.
There are several reasons why the Chiefs eventually signed the treaty, which would take more space than what I have. Let’s just conclude that the Red Lake and Pembina bands were generous people. Because of this generosity the entire nation should be thankful.
Maybe you have heard people say out of jealousy or greed or just ignorance, “Why are Natives the only people who can have casinos?” “Why do Native people get many grants from the Federal Government?” “Why can’t we fish in lower Red Lake, too.”
The next time you hear someone say something like that, remind them what Red Lake and Pembina and so many other Native bands have already gifted to the United States.
Next year, when Oct. 2 rolls around, let’s not forget to celebrate with Red Lake the generosity of Native people. To again quote Floyd Jourdain, Jr. on his Sept. 10 address in 2013, ”We must keep in our hearts and in our minds that we come from good people.”
(Note: I want to thank Floyd Jourdain, Jr., Michael Meuers, Leo Soukup and the Red Lake News for refreshing my memory about this treaty. There is a side story about this treaty that is not often told but that all of us who live in Beltrami County should be aware. I will write about it in next week’s column.)
Riddle: Which letter of the alphabet is the only one that does not appear in any of the names of the 50 United States? (Answer: “Q”. The word “quick” begins with “Q” and all of us need to be quick to remember the goodness of Native Americans).
100 percent graduation
We now have over 300 organizations that support the 100 percent graduation rate movement. A few of the most recent supporters are: Ironside Bobcat, Jim Finlayson (carpentry), Asian Creations, Pinnacle Publishing, RiverWood Bank, Bemidji UpNorth Sports. We can help students graduate when we:
- Make history and other subjects interesting.
- Pay closer attention to local and state history.
- Remind students that the older they become, the more important history will become.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.