A blockhouse at Fort Pitt, where the first formal treaty between the United States and an Indian nation, in this case the Delaware Nation, was signed on September 17, 1778. Photo: jpellgen

James Giago Davies: First treaty signed with an Indian nation was quickly broken

Delaware signed treaty in 1778

They signed 21 subsequent treaties and all were violated
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson wrote a landmark book, “A Century of Dishonor,” which examined the dark history of tribal relations with the United States government. Each week the NSNT will examine one tribe from the book, updating Jackson’s observations to the respective tribe’s present day circumstance. Previously, we looked at the Ponca.

Pittsburgh was once called Fort Pitt, and at that fort, on September 17, 1778, the Delaware Nation signed their first treaty with the Confederacy of States.

This was the first treaty between an Indian tribe and the Untied States-to-be. It was over a decade before the U.S. Constitution would take effect, and like all treaties to follow, the critical particulars would be soon violated by the United States, forcing yet more treaties.

All told, between 1778 and 1866, the Delaware would sign no less than 21 treaties with the United States, and every single one of them would be violated by the United States, and are still being violated.

The Delaware called themselves the Lenni Lenape, the “original people” in their Algonquin tongue. The Algonquian peoples constitute one of the largest linguistic families in North America, and largely centered in the Northeast corner of North America, they include such tribes as the Blackfeet, Chippewa, Shawnee, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Gros Venture and Cree.

As treaties were violated the Delaware would say, “…let us meet half-way, and let us pursue such steps that become upright and honest men. We beg that you will prevent your surveyors and other people from coming on our side of the Ohio River.”

Just one year before, the treaty had stipulated that should Whites trespass on Delaware land, they could “punish them as they pleased,” but now they had to beg the U.S. to uphold their half of the agreement.

The government, on the other hand, had other ideas, President Washington instructed charges, in their dealings with the tribes, to “not neglect any opportunity that may offer of extinguishing the Indian rights to the westward, as far as the Mississippi.”

As Jackson so eloquently wrote, “Beyond that river even the wildest dream of greed did not yet look.”

In 1793 the Delaware presented a proposal to the government, which strikes us today as surprisingly astute and yet heart-wrenchingly naïve: “Money to us is of no value…we know that these settlers are poor, or they would never have ventured to live in a country which has been in continual trouble ever since they crossed the Ohio. Divide, therefore, this large sum of money, which you have offered us, among your people; give to each, also, a proportion of what you say you would give us annually…and we are persuaded they would readily accept it in lieu of the lands you sold them. If you add, also, the great sums you must expend in raising and paying armies with a view to force us to yield you our country, you will certainly have more than sufficient for the purpose of repaying these settlers for all their labor and improvements.”

An ingenious proposal, but only if the intent of the United States was not to take any and all of whatever they wished, whenever they felt they needed it. And it was.


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Delaware signed treaty in 1778
James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com

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