National Archives Loans Prairie du Chien Treaty for NMAI Exhibit
By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News
WASHINGTON, December 16, 2022 — The 1829 Prairie du Chien Treaty, in which several Native communities ceded land in the Great Lakes region to the U.S. government, will be on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for several months thanks to an ongoing collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration.
The document negotiated between the Chippewa (Ojibwe), Ottawa, and Potawatomi Nations and the federal government is part of the National Archives.
It is the 16th treaty to be temporarily exhibited at the museum through a loan from the National Archives as part of the Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations exhibit since 2014.
The public can view the Prairie du Chien Treaty at NMAI in Washington, DC, until April 2023. View the treaty in its entirety in the National Archives Catalog.
“The Indian Treaties at the National Archives are some of our most historically significant records, and they remain relevant today as tribal leaders and lawyers continue to use them to assert their rights in court, such as in cases over land and water rights,” Meghan Ryan Guthorn, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of the National Archives, said at an event on November 9 marking the installation of the treaty.
The treaties in this series are on display to the public for a limited time to best conserve them.
Due to their historical and intrinsic value, the treaties are classified as Specially Protected Holdings and are stored in a vault at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Specially Protected Holdings have restricted physical access, and they are unavailable to be pulled for use in the Central Research Room.
The National Archives works with NMAI as well as tribal leaders and communities “to make not only the treaties but other records important to Native American communities more accessible for research and education, and to tell more inclusive stories about the histories of our nations,” Guthorn added.
Thirty-five tribal representatives signed the Prairie du Chien Treaty on July 29, 1829, including five women, in Michigan Territory.
The Prairie du Chien Treaty was one of 12 major treaties in which Potawatomi people relinquished most of their land in the southern Great Lakes to the United States. During the treaty negotiations at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, in 1829, U.S. officials pressured Native leaders to cede territories in northern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin, parts of which were already occupied by American intruders. Ultimately, 35 tribal representatives signed the treaty, including five women who are thought to be widows or heirs of deceased chiefs. Under the agreement, Potawatomi and associated Ottawa and Ojibwe groups relinquished 3.5 million acres of tribal land. In return, the U.S. government exchanged trade goods, barrels of salt, annual payments in silver, a blacksmith shop in Chicago and land parcels for tribal leaders and their Indigenous-French (Métis) descendants, and $11,601 was set aside to settle Native American debts to traders. The treaty furthered the U.S. government’s gradual removal of the Potawatomi people to lands west of the Mississippi River.
More resources on Native American records in the National Archives holdings:
- In collaboration with the National Archives Foundation and an anonymous donor, the 374 ratified Native American treaties in National Archives custody are digitized and available online in the National Archives Catalog as well as in the Indigenous Digital Archive’s Treaties Explorer
- Archivist Explores History of 1950 Census Indian Reservation Schedule
- Nation to Nation: Treaties at the National Museum of the American Indian, Pieces of History
- NARA's Strategic Plan goal of advancing equity: "NARA’s Strategic Plan makes explicit commitments to collaborate with underserved communities and other stakeholders to identify areas of improvement and take the most effective actions to improve equity in the records that NARA makes available to the public."
Public Affairs Specialist Miriam Kleiman contributed to this report.