Delvin Cree: Treaties and the debate over 'Fighting Sioux'

Some of the historical history surrounding North Dakota's "Fighting Sioux" controversy has been pushed aside during a time when discussions are in place to keep the name and logo.

Soon the North Dakota Supreme Court will hear arguments from interested parties who have a stake in this situation. But what people are not hearing is what took place over a hundred years ago at the signing of the 1863 Old Crossing Treaty, which included the Red Lake and Pembina Band of Chippewa. This treaty land base includes an area which the University of North Dakota sits on.

While many discussions regarding the use of the "Fighting Sioux" name and logo have taken place; many feel the Sioux community should have all the say in this situation. I have to disagree and I have a difference view of things and please let me share them.

In article 1 of the Old Crossing Treaty it states, "The peace and friendship now existing between the United States and the Red Lake and Pembina bands of Chippewa Indians shall be perpetual".

I'm sure the terms of this statement may mean a number of things if an attorney used it for court purposes. But in this situation, I'm gonna view things in a sense the Sioux and the University has created a hostile and insensitive environment for American Indian people who have been offended by individuals who have used our imagery in the wrong context.

A good example is the use of the "Fighting Sioux" name and logo which has been offensive to many tribal people -- including the Pembina Chippewa such as myself. So far, this argument of keeping the name and logo has not been heard in a federal court setting. Eventually, if it doe's, I'm sure the Pembina Chippewa will have the opportunity to share our concerns.

Another Treaty was made between the Dakota Sioux and Pembina Chippewa in 1858 before the Old Crossing Treaty. This treaty was done with the assistance from the U.S. government and was called the "Sweet Corn Treaty".

When this treaty was made, both the Sioux and Pembina Chippewa outlined boundaries which they would have claim to. The Pembina Chippewa took claim to 11 million acres and the "Sweet Corn" treaty document supported the Chippewa having title to the land negotiated.

Thirty three years prior, the forefathers of the both tribes had secured the proposed treaty by exchanging babies and voicing the comment, "We will not make war against our grandchildren."

Today, the Pembina Chippewa and the Sioux are in no position of having a war but there has been a difference of opinion between the two Tribes regarding the use of Indian imagery. Though some Sioux members may feel they are being honored by the use of Indian imagery but some like myself feel differently.

According to the Sweet Corn Treaty, there shall be no disagreements between the two tribes. In my opinion, this ould be used to bring peace between our tribes and help eliminate the use of the "Fighting Sioux" name and logo.

In researching my ancestral roots, I have come across another treaty which states there be peace between the Sioux and their neighbors which include the Chippewa and other Tribes. The Prairie du Chien Treaty was made in 1825 and was created during a time when white settlers were encroaching in a western direction towards Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas.

During this period the Sioux came into conflict with tribes when they moved into their western traditional territory. The U.S. government helped negotiate this treaty to reduce tribal warfare between tribes. Again, here's a treaty which states there be peace between the Sioux and my ancestors. This treaty has many similarities as the Sweet Corn Treaty.

In 1871, Congress ended treaties with tribes but these same agreements contain promises which bind the nation today. Our treaties, according to the U.S. Constitution, are the supreme law of the land. Other treaties made between tribes which included the U.S. government involvement during tribal negotiations are also binding.

In the near future, oral arguments will be heard at the North Dakota Supreme Court level. I'm sure supporters who want to keep the "Fighting Sioux" name and logo will "skirt" the issue that federal laws being broken.

But the racist and bigotry behavior will continue if sport teams continue to use our imagery. A good example hit news headlines across the nation when a hockey game series took place in Minnesota. (This state is also known as "Minnesota Nice" in much of their advertising.)

In a recent Associated Press article published in The Washington Post on February 21, 2012, there were reports of students who made war-hooping noises and chanted "Hi, HOW are you? and "smallpox blankets" during hockey games which the "Fighting Sioux" were playing.

The games were held February 10 and February 11, 2012. The smallpox blanket comments made were in reference to Indians who were given smallpox infected blankets by the U.S. government and white settlers- which eventually killed off many of our ancestors.

After this bad sportsmanship, the University of Minnesota - Duluth where the incidents took place, issued warnings to student ticket holders saying: "Any profane, racial, sexist, or abusive comments or actions directed at officials, opposing players or teams" could lead to their ejection from the arena or cost them their season tickets.

The University of North Dakota decided to retire the "Fighting Sioux" name and logo after the NCAA required them to do so after it was found that the use of Indian imagery created a racist and hostile environment. But supporters of the name and logo have gathered enough signatures to temporarily restore a state law requiring its use. Future state hearings will decide if the "Fighting Sioux" issue will go to a state-wide vote.

Supporters of the "Fighting Sioux" name and logo -- which include a few tribal people from the Sioux population -- who want to keep the name and logo should consider what took place during the recent hockey game held in Minnesota. This is a perfect example this insensitive behavior will continue if the use of our imagery continues.

There is also a resolution in place by the Turtle Mountain Tribe, of which I am a member, that states the University of North Dakota drop the name and logo.

As a member of this tribe and a direct descendant of the great Pembina Chippewa leader -- Chief Little Shell, who helped negotiate the Old Crossing Treaty -- the "Fighting Sioux" imagery should be dropped. The inappropriate comments, the racist behavior, and, at times, a hostile environment have persuaded me in my decision.

Delvin Cree is a columnist/writer for The Tribal Independent, an alternative on-line news source for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Cree is also a contributor to the tribe's newspaper The Turtle Mountain Times and Indianz.com, a national news source for American Indians.

More from Delvin Cree:
Delvin Cree: Predatory lending a cash cow in Indian Country (2/17)
Delvin Cree: Favoritism in Turtle Mountain tribal employment (2/3)

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