June 09, 2017

Thinking about the Indian Removal Act, at the National Archives Museum and National Museum of the American Indian


"Our cause is your own. It is the cause of liberty and justice."

Principal Chief John Ross (Cherokee, 1790–1866), appearing before the U.S. Senate in 1836 to argue on behalf of the Cherokee Council against ratification of the Treaty of New Echota, ceding Cherokee lands to the United States

Removal Act at the US National Archives
Visitors to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., viewing the Removal Act of 1830. Photo for the National Archives by Jessica Deibert

This spring, I visited the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., to see the Indian Removal Act, on display in the Archives' Landmark Document Case. Signed by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, the Removal Act, gave the president the legal authority to remove Native people by force from their homelands east of the Mississippi to lands west of the Mississippi. It became for American Indians one of the most detrimental pieces of legislation in U.S. history. Under the Removal Act, the military forcibly relocated approximately 50,000 American Indians to Indian Territory, within the boundaries of the present-day state of Oklahoma.

At the National Museum of the American Indian, we address the importance of the Removal Act in two major exhibitions—Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, which opened in September 2014 and will be on view through 2021, and Americans, opening October 26 of this year and on view through fall 2027.

"Many of these helpless people did not have blankets and many of them had been driven from home barefooted. . . . And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold, and exposure." 

Private John G. Burnett (1810–unknown), Captain Abraham McClellan’s Company, 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Volunteer Militia, account of the removal of the Cherokee, from a letter to his children written in 1890

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The Indian Removal Act, May 28, 1830. General Records of the United States Government, National Archives. Photos courtesy of the National Archives


Many Americans, and many people beyond the United States, know the story of removal—or part of the story. In the late 1830s, more than 20,000 Cherokee men, women, and children were removed from their homelands. Approximately one-fourth of these people died along the Trail of Tears—bayoneted, frozen to death, starved, or pushed beyond exhaustion. Less well known, perhaps, is that hundreds of other tribes shed tears as well as they were forced to leave their homes to make room for non-Indian settlement and ownership of their land. Through American expansion, every tribe lost land its people originally called home.
 

"They were not allowed to take any of their household stuff, but were compelled to leave as they were, with only the clothes which they had on." 

—Wahnenauhi (Lucy Lowrey Hoyt Keys, Cherokee, 1831–1912), account of the Cherokee removal written in 1889, published by the Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology in Bulletin 196, Anthropological Papers, No. 77

The museum’s exhibitions look at the Removal Act from the broader perspective of events at the time it was enacted and during the nearly two centuries since. In the companion book to Nation to Nation, Robert N. Clinton, Foundation Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, describes the growing sense of national strength that allowed the federal government to move away from conducting negotiations with Indian nations as a sort of diplomacy—based on transnational law, mutual interests, and tribal sovereignty—and toward the direct pursuit of its one-sided goals:

The War of 1812 eliminated the possibility of Indian alliances with Britain, which had posed a threat to the stability and security of the United States. Thereafter . . . the bargaining power in treaty discussions shifted greatly to the United States, and policy was increasingly dictated by the federal government. . . . After a decade of treaty negotiations on the subject, the southeastern states provoked a controversy over the continued presence of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muskogee (Creek), Choctaw, and Seminole nations on lands within state borders. Congress decided to chart the policy unilaterally by adopting the Removal Act of 1830.

Nation to Nation also explores the place of the Removal Act in U.S. legal history. The exhibition shows how advocates and Native and non-Native opponents of removal battled in Congress and the courts—all the way to the Supreme Court—at the same time tribal leaders were working to ensure the survival of their people.

Americans, which will explore Indians and the development of America's national consciousness through four iconic events—Thanksgiving, the life of Pocahontas, the Trail of Tears, and the Battle of Little Bighorn—widens the museum’s perspective on the Removal Act even more. In developing the themes of the new exhibition, lead curator Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche) and co-curator Cécile R. Ganteaume wrote:

Democracy at the Crossroads—the section of Americans about the Trail of Tears—explores the contemporary relevance of removal and why it is still embedded in 21st-century American life. We focus on crucial elements of the history that usually do not receive the attention they deserve: A vigorous national debate over removal consumed the United States before passage of the Indian Removal Act. With the eyes of the Western world upon them, members of Congress cloaked the Removal Act in humanitarian language. The actual removal of Native nations from the South across the Mississippi was a massive national project that required the full force of the federal bureaucracy to accomplish. Finally, it is due to efforts of young Cherokees in the early 20th century that the expression “trail of tears” has come to be known throughout the country, if not the world, to represent a gross miscarriage of justice.

In the central space that links the four iconic events in Americans, visitors will find themselves surrounded by photographs and commercial art. The idea is to show how images of Indians—and Native names and words from Native languages—are and have always been everywhere around us in the United States. Once we look, we can see them as national symbols on monuments, coins, and stamps; in the marketing of just about anything you can think of; in the Defense Department's naming conventions for weapons; and as part of pop culture. The reality of images and references to Indians everywhere is illustrated, for the time being, by the 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle on view in the museum’s atrium.

I confess that as I stood before the original Removal Act at the National Archives, it was hard for me to reconcile the events it set in motion with the motorcycle’s very American celebration of freedom. The curators of Americans hope, however, that the new exhibition will encourage visitors to be part of a new conversation among Natives and non-Natives about the place Indians continue to hold in our understanding of America. It’s an important conversation, and I’m committed to being part of it.

—Dennis W. Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 is on view at the National Archives Museum through June 14.

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March 23, 2017

The Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854

On March 23, 2017, the Treaty of Medicine Creek (1854) was installed in the exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The treaty, on loan from the National Archives and Records Administration, will remain on display through August 2017. Here, museum historian Mark Hirsch recounts the origins of the treaty and highlights a key provision that secured the fishing rights of the nine Puget Sound Indian nations and bands that signed the agreement. 

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Gustav Sohon (1825–1903), Coming for the Walla Walla Council, May 18, 1855. Colored pencil, watercolor, and ink on laminated mat. Image 20.3 x 20.3 cm. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. NAA INV 08602800

 

The words “broken” and “treaty” figure prominently in contemporary discussions on American Indian history. For good reason. Today, most historians agree that the United States violated many, if not all, of the roughly 371 treaties with Native nations ratified from 1778 to 1871. Yet the story of Indian treaties is more than a chronicle of coercion and bad faith. As the historian Alexandra Harmon reminds us, the narrative arc of treaty history makes “ironic twists and turns” and produces unexpected outcomes that have bolstered Native rights and tribal sovereignty.

The Treaty of Medicine Creek, with the Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, and other tribes and bands of southern Puget Sound, was the first of four agreements the U.S. made with the Native peoples of Western Washington during a 37-day period in 1854–55. Although 63 tribal leaders signed the treaty, they and their people soon came to regret it. For in doing so they relinquished 2.5 million acres of tribal land to the U.S. in exchange for three 1,280-acre reservations, $32,500 paid over 13 years, and other considerations that aimed to assimilate Indians into European–American culture.

Flash forward to 1974. The descendants of the Medicine Creek Treaty signers embrace the old agreement. They consider it a source of Indian rights, a font of tribal traditions, and a recognition of sovereign nationhood.

What a difference 120 years make!

The shift in Native perceptions of the Medicine Creek Treaty turns on language found in Section 3, which states that, “The right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations, is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory.” 

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Isaac Ingalls Stevens, ca. 1860. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. LC-BH82- 5175 A

We tend to think that foresighted and hard-bargaining tribal leaders pressured American treaty commissioners to include such language in their treaty. After all, the Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, and other southern Puget Sound tribes and bands depended on salmon fishing for survival. Yet the evidence suggests that the impetus for recognizing tribal fishing rights at Medicine Creek came from Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818–62), the lead U.S. treaty negotiator.

An ambitious graduate of West Point, the 36-year-old Stevens was the governor of Washington Territory—a vast and sprawling area that included northern Idaho and western Montana—as well as its superintendent of Indian Affairs. To him fell responsibility for negotiating land cession treaties with the Indians of the territory.

Acquiring legal title had become a matter of urgency in 1850, when the U.S. authorized white settlers to claim Native lands under a new homesteading act. Land cessions were needed to “extinguish” Indian claims to their homelands.

When he arrived at Medicine Creek, Stevens brought already-drafted treaty language that would be read to the approximately 600 to 700 tribal delegates who converged on the treaty ground on Christmas Eve 1854. The draft reflected a recent trend in U.S. Indian policy: Rather than removing tribes to far-flung lands, U.S. officials hoped to make treaties that consolidated Indians on small parcels, or reservations, within their original homelands.

Stevens’s treaty also reflected some understanding of the cultures of the Puget Sound Indians. He knew that salmon fishing was central to their lives, that tribal leaders would never countenance a treaty that removed them from their homelands’ streams, rivers, and saltwater bays. He also knew that U.S. Indian officials were stingy and that allowing Indians to fish on their former lands would reduce the government’s responsibility for feeding them. Last, Stevens knew that incoming white settlers would need access to Indian labor. For these reasons, Stevens’s treaty recognized Indian rights to leave their newly created reservations to work, hunt, and especially fish for salmon at their “usual and accustomed grounds and stations.”

The tribal delegates who attended the Medicine Creek Treaty expected to discuss and negotiate the terms of the agreement. But Stevens was not of a mind to negotiate. Ultimately the treaty was signed as written and forwarded to Washington, where it was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1855.

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"Treaty between the United States and the Nisqualli, Puyallup and Other Indians at Medicine Creek, Washington." 1854. First page, recto and verso. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

There is little doubt that the tribal leaders were confused by the proceedings. An interpreter read the terms of the treaty to them using the Chinook trade jargon, a 500-word pidgin language that had no words for Western concepts of land ownership, fishing rights, and other principles invoked in the treaty.

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Portrait of Nisqually Chief Leschi, painted by an unknown artist in 1894. Watercolor on paperboard. Washington State Historical Society, cat. 200.

An X appears next to the name of the Nisqually tribal leader Leschi (1808–58), but there is reason to believe his mark may have been forged. Certainly Leschi was angered by the treaty’s plan to relocate the Nisqually to a small reservation atop a wooded bluff, away from the river where they traditionally harvested salmon. Leschi also visited neighboring tribes who were preparing to negotiate treaties with the U.S., urging them to place no faith in Stevens. As tribal resentment spread through the region, so, too, did white fears of Indian unrest. In 1855 the growing atmosphere of tension, distrust, and cultural misunderstanding led to violence and war. For eight months tribal warriors and volunteer militiamen engaged in skirmishes that cost lives on both sides.

In November 1856 territorial authorities captured Leschi, who was put on trial for allegedly killing an American soldier. Leschi’s attorneys not only proclaimed his innocence, but argued that an act committed during wartime could not be punished in civilian courts. The trial ended in a hung jury.

But Leschi’s troubles were not over. After a one-day retrial, a jury of non-Indians in a different venue found him guilty. Although his lawyers presented new, exculpatory evidence, the Territorial Supreme Court upheld the conviction. On February 19, 1858, 300 people gathered around an outdoor gallows near Fort Steilacoom, south of present day Tacoma, to witness his execution.

Leschi proclaimed his innocence to the end, and many people, including his hangman, believed him. “I felt then I was hanging an innocent man,” Charles Grainger recalled years later, “and I believe it yet.”

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Quileute salmon-fishing hooks, ca. 1890. Washington. Iron, wood, cordage, split plant fiber. 20 x 7.5 cm, cord 120 cm; 20 x 8.4 cm. 5/7591 | NMAI Photo Services, Smithsonian

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Native peoples of the Puget Sound region continued to remember Leschi as a great tribal leader and a wrongly convicted man. Today a neighborhood in Seattle, a city park, a marina, and a school on the Puyallup Indian Reservation bear his name. In 2004, 146 years after his execution, Leschi was exonerated at a historical retrial presided over by the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court.

In the 20th century, the Native peoples of Puget Sound also remembered and continued to invoke fishing rights guaranteed under the Medicine Creek Treaty. Exercising those rights, however, was now challenged by increasingly stringent state regulations that prohibited Indians from harvesting salmon out of season and without state fishing licenses. For state officials, U.S. treaties that guaranteed Indians the right to fish in their “usual and accustomed stations” were vestiges of a bygone era, ancient promises that held no purchase in modern America.

Puget Sound Indians never waivered in the belief that their treaty-recognized fishing rights were inviolate. “We have this treaty right, the supreme law of the land under their Constitution,” the Indian fishing rights advocate Valerie Bridges (Nisqually, 1950–70) declared. “It’s a treaty we’re fighting for.”

It was this fundamental belief in the sanctity and power of the Medicine Creek Treaty that helped inspire the great fish-in protests on the salmon rivers of Western Washington in the 1960s and ’70s. Those acts of resistance fixed national attention on Indian treaty rights and laid the groundwork for the emergence of the modern tribal sovereignty movement that continues to define life in Indian Country today.

—Mark Hirsch


Mark Hirsch is a historian at the National Museum of the American Indian. His research interests include 19th- and 20th-century social and cultural history, U.S. Indian policy, Native–European contact, and the making of the modern world


Source for the observation that treaty history makes “ironic twists and turns”: Alexandra Harmon, “Indian Treaty History: A Subject for Agile Minds,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 106:3 (Fall, 2005): 358.

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November 11, 2014

Statement from Director Kevin Gover on Suzan Harjo and Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom

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Suzan Harjo at the entrance of "Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and the American Indian Nations" at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian)

I wish to congratulate my colleague and friend, Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), on being named one of 19 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented by President Barack Obama at the White House on Nov. 24, 2014.

Suzan has worked tirelessly on behalf of Native peoples as an activist, journalist and leader. Her list of achievements is long and include being the founding president of the Morning Star Institute, a national Native rights organization that promotes Native Peoples' traditions, culture and arts. She is one of seven Native people who filed the 1992 landmark lawsuit, Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc., regarding the name of the Washington, D.C., football team. Her social and political activism dates back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when she was news director for the American Indian Press Association and producer of Seeing Red, the first Indian news show in the United States, on WBAI-FM Radio in New York. As a special assistant for Indian legislation in President Carter's administration, she was principal author of the "President's Report to Congress on American Indian Religious Freedom." She served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1984 through 1989.

Dr. Harjo’s history and relationship with the museum began over two decades ago as a founding trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian (1990–1996). She began work in 1967 that led to the NMAI, to repatriation law, and to reform of national museum policies dealing with Native Americans. She was a trustee of NMAI's predecessor museum and collection in New York City from 1980 to 1990, and was NMAI's first Program Planning Committee chair and principal author of the NMAI policies on Exhibits (1994), Indian Identity (1993), and Repatriation (1991), and as director of the 2004-2005 NMAI Native Languages Archives Repository Project. She now serves as guest curator for the recently opened exhibition, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, and as editor of the accompanying publication of the same name.

I could not be more proud to see Suzan join the company of such illuminaries and cultural influencers such as Ben Bradlee, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Sen. Daniel Inouye. She and Sen. Inouye were there to sign the MOU that transferred the collection from the Museum of the American Indian to the Smithsonian Institution on May 8, 1989. Her continued work as an inspiring leader and role model has made Indian Country proud and we support her as she receives this national recognition and well deserved honor!

Kevin Gover (Pawnee)
Director, National Museum of the American Indian

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Really interesting post. I look forward to reading more articles on this site in the future.

Thanks

David Marks

To read this article I feel interesting. I look forward to reading more articles on this site in the future. Thanks for sharing.

October 07, 2014

“So, what’s up with all those questions about treaties on columns throughout the museum?”

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What's the story behind the purple columns around the museum? We're glad you asked. They're interactive learning stations for the
new exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American
Indian Nations,
 and we hope they'll prompt visitors to keep asking questions.

American Indian treaties are a topic about which visitors have a lot of interest and curiosity. Engage them in a conversation about treaties, and they will often shake their heads and say, “Oh yeah, those,” and then begin to ask questions: “Are treaties still valid?” “Do treaties give American Indians special rights?” “Aren’t treaties bad for American Indians?” “Weren’t all the treaties just broken anyway?” Starting with such foundational questions, the exhibit team that produced Nation to Nation” Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations is using a well-known educational strategy to attract visitors to the major new exhibition on view in Washington through fall 2018.

On the Potomac level and on the 3rd and 4th floors of the museum, selected columns have been painted “wampum purple”—a Nation to Nation design theme—festooned with the flags of Native Nations, and fitted with wooden interactives that pose and answer important questions about treaties. The purpose of these treaties stations is to pique visitors’ interest in the Nation to Nation exhibit. But their content is not just typical Q & A. 

The treaties stations employ an educational technique known as “inquiry-based learning.” The idea behind this approach is to engage learners in a discovery of the content, instead of just telling them everything you want them to know. The “telling” approach is not the most effective educational strategy and often results in something my mother used to characterize as “going in one ear and coming out the other.” Inquiry-based learning begins with something that is compelling—for example, an image, a question, an object, or a combination thereof—then encourages people to explore it. 

Interactive 1b Interactive 1c

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Panels from a treaties interactive. (Click
each image for a larger view.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


At each treaties station, visitors are engaged with a question and image or images related to treaties (above, left). Visitors then rotate the panel manually, but instead of finding the answer on the next panel, they find a new image, quotation, or excerpt from a historical document—something that requires them to think again (above, right). Visitors then rotate the mechanism to a final panel, where the answer is revealed and a more detailed explanation is offered (right)

Each of the treaties station columns has the words “Find out more in the Nation to Nation exhibit,” stenciled on it. Our hope is that more visitors will be intrigued to learn what is inside the exhibit by interacting with these important treaty questions outside the exhibit. We plan to evaluate the interactives’ effectiveness in a formal way.

So, when you visit the museum, try them out. We hope that they’ll help you build your basic knowledge about treaties and that you’ll find yourself thinking about the history of treaties and their ongoing importance before you even reach the exhibit on the 4th floor. 

Then let us know what you think.

—Ed Schupman            

Ed Schupman is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and works in the museum's education department supporting exhibit teams and developing resources for K–12 students and teachers.

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September 22, 2014

Let’s Begin a New Chapter in NMAI History


This week marks an important milestone for the community of the National Museum of the American Indian —the 10th anniversary of the opening of the museum in Washington, D.C. I’m proud to say NMAI has helped redefine the way our visitors understand the Native American experience and Native Peoples, thanks to the generous support of numerous Native Nations, members, trustees, and staff. More than 25,000 Native Americans gathered for the museum opening in 2004—the largest gathering of indigenous people in Washington, D.C., to date—and we look forward to greeting thousands more over the next decade.

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Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the America Indian.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the museum’s landmark founding legislation; the 20th anniversary of the opening of our first location, in New York City at the George Gustav Heye Center; and the 15th anniversary of the opening of our Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland. These are fine accomplishments, and we are proud and grateful for what we all have done together.

There’s still important work to be done. Most Americans have been taught a limited—and often mistaken—version of Native American history. I still remember the stereotypes that defined my childhood: Indians were figures of the past, often pictured on a rocky hillside dressed in feathers and buckskin. It was images like these that made growing up as an Indian child harder than it had to be.

The true story of our heritage is so much more nuanced, complex, and fascinating. Understanding this complexity can help us understand our present and prepare for our future as a multicultural nation. This is where NMAI can play a vital role in the coming decades, and we are committed to taking on this role with greater focus and intensity. 

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Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, on view at the museum in Washington from September 21, 2014, through fall 2018. A more detailed caption for these photographs appears below.


Over the next quarter century, we’re committed to telling the authentic history of the Western Hemisphere and Native Peoples to citizens, policymakers, and policy influencers nationwide.  We’re embarking on this new effort in a number of ways, including through groundbreaking exhibitions such as Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, which is now open to the public. We’re also accelerating our efforts to work with educators, providing classroom materials designed to instill a richer understanding of our history as Americans. And we’ve launched an ambitious campaign to fund more than $75 million in projects that will sustain the next generation of our work.

We understand that this kind of change cannot happen overnight. It will take time and resources. But it’s my hope that our work over the next 25 years can begin to correct the deep-rooted stereotypes, inaccuracies, and omissions that defined my childhood and continue to contribute to the challenges faced by Tribal Nations.

Please join me as we retell America’s story and build understandings upon which the Indian Nations can achieve their highest aspirations.

                                                                                                —Kevin Gover

 

For more information on ways you can support NMAI, visit http://nmai.si.edu/support or email NMAImember@si.edu

Kevin Gover is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. 

 

Photo block above: Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, on view at the museum in Washington from September 21, 2014, through fall 2018. 

Top: Examples of early diplomacy between include (left) the 1682 Lenape Treaty with colonist William Penn and (right) the 1794 Treaty of Canandiagua between the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the United States. The Treaty of Canandiagua, one of eight original treaties that will rotate on exhibit to preserve fragile documents from light damage, can be seen now through February 2015. 

Center: A display of pipe bags, represents both the importance of ceremony to diplomacy and the northern Plains Nations that were party to the Horse Creek Treaty (1861). From left to right: Tsitsistas/Shutai (Cheyenne) pipe bag, ca. 1851 (NMAI 8/8037); Sahnish (Arikara) pipe bag, ca. 1880 (NMAI 20/1400); Yankton pipe bag, ca. 1880 (NMAI 16/7255); AssiniIoine pipe bag, ca. 1880 (NMAI 12/7393); Numakiki (Mandan) pipe bag, ca. 1851 (NMAI 8/8088); Northern Inunaina (Arapaho) pipe bag, ca. 1885 (NMAI 23/1176); Apsáalooke (Crow/Absaroke) pipe bag, ca.1870 (NMAI 14/828); Minitari (Hidatsa) pipe bag, ca. 1880 (American Museum of Natural History 50.1/5350B); Shoshone pipe bag, ca. 1870 (NMAI 2/3294). 

Bottom: From the mid-19th century unti the present day, generations of Indian leaders have traveled to Washington, D.C., to remind successive administrations of the United States' nation-to-nation treaty obligations.

All photos are by Paul Morigi/AP Images for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.