Traveling treaties exhibit on display in White Earth
Why do treaties matter?
A new traveling exhibition being unveiled in White Earth is not only explaining the answer to that question, but also showing the answer.
Twenty large, freestanding banners now line the halls of the White Earth Tribal Headquarters Building, each displaying portraits and stories of historical treaties and where they stand today.
The display, which will eventually travel all over Minnesota, is open to the public, and is intended to serve as an educational tool.
The Minnesota Humanities Center, the Smithsonian and the Indian Affairs Council collaborated on the project, called "Why Treaties Matter."
Lorna Lague, Executive Assistant of Special Projects for the White Earth Tribal Council, was one of several contacts for the creators of the display.
"They traveled throughout Minnesota to the reservations and got input as far as what these panels should look like, what they should say and what the message should be," said Lague.
Native input was key in sculpting the messages of the display because according to many Native American leaders, their messages have been misunderstood for too long.
"This needed to be brought out into the general public for teaching the history of treaties from the point of view of our native people," said Secretary-Treasurer of the White Earth Nation, Robert Durant, "because I believe the way history has been written in the past and how we've been taught is determined on one point of view."
Durant says the exhibit breaks down, in an easy to understand way, the number of treaty issues still left unresolved today and explains the relationships, negotiations and rights of Native Americans.
"It's just a small piece of the total story, but it's enough to get people interested," said Durant.
A few of the 20 topics displayed include treaties that the native communities still see as unkept promises from the federal government -- treaties that matter deeply to them, like the Treaty of 1855.
That is the most hotly debated treaty today for the White Earth Nation and other Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, who are attempting to reclaim the rights to manage hunting, fishing and gathering on the 13-million acre land that was ceded to the Union in 1854.
"We're asking to be the sound managers of that land," said Terry Tibbetts, District 2 Representative for the White Earth Tribal Council. "We've proven we can do that with our own DNR -- we've stocked millions of walleye back in the local lakes and re-established sturgeons."
Durant says although these banners tell the history of treaties, the exhibit also addresses the future and how Native Americans can survive as a people in a changing world.
"Hopefully they can make people think about how we can bring back honesty, fiduciary responsibilities, and see where we can go from here."
Durant says he hopes projects like the traveling treaties exhibition can serve as a positive awareness tool for non-natives -- especially for those who may one day be part of negotiations with the tribes.
"We struggle because every two years we get new people elected to the United States Congress, and we have to be there to re-teach and to tell them there are two parts to the government with our nations, and I think things like this can help."
There is also a 10-minute documentary in the works that will soon accompany the display, which will remain at the White Earth Tribal Headquarters for viewing throughout the month.
It will then be moved to the Becker County Historical Society for the month of October, then on to other areas throughout the state.
The exhibit will end its travels in December of 2012, when Durant says he hopes it will end up at the Smithsonian, adding to the relatively rare collection of displayed history of the Anishinabe and Ojibwe in Minnesota.