2017-11-15 / Top News

Delaware signed treaty in 1778

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

The painting above depicts the first treaty made by the United States with an Indian tribe, the Delaware, being signed on September 17, 1778, at Fort Pitt. The painting above depicts the first treaty made by the United States with an Indian tribe, the Delaware, being signed on September 17, 1778, at Fort Pitt. 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. Last week we looked at the Ponca. Next week we will look at the Cheyenne.

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.

By 1795 it was deigned the Delaware “refused to make peace,” meaning they refused to give up the land the last treaty had promised was theirs forever, and so their vast corn fields were burned, their villages ransacked.

In 1818, the Delaware were forced to cede all claims to any land in Indiana, and by 1829 forced to move far west, to the fork of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers.

During the Civil War, out of fear, some Delaware made peace with the Confederacy, but “one-half the adult population are in the volunteer service of the United States. They make the best of soldiers and are highly valued by their officers.”

But the reality had shifted, and now, beyond the Mississippi River, the “wildest dream of greed” did, indeed, look.

While the men were away fighting the Confederacy, settlers inundated their lands, the situation agitated by railroad interests wanting the land, and wanting White farmers on the land as customers. By July, 1866, the Union Pacific Railroad ran right through the heart of the Delaware reservation, and by 1870 the Tribe was forcibly relocated in Oklahoma, in Indian Territory.

Today the United States recognizes three Delaware tribes: in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in Anadarko, Oklahoma, and the Stockbridge- Munsee Community of Wisconsin. This once great Nation is scattered across North America, and no tribe has a more dramatic history, of good faith relations, and forced relocations, of prosperous towns and farming regions repeatedly seized and destroyed to make way for railroads and White settlement.

The dignity, the wisdom, the astonishing prescience of this people is no better evidenced than in an April, 1787 speech given by a chief, Pachgants-chilias, to a delegation of Christian Indians: “I admit that there are good white men, but they bear no proportion to the bad; the bad must be the strongest, for they rule. They do what they please. They enslave those who are not of their color, although created by the same Great Spirit who created them. They would make slaves of us, if they could; but as they cannot do it, they kill us. There is no faith to be placed in their words. They are not like the Indians, who are only enemies while at war, and are friends in peace. They will say to an Indian, ‘My friend; my brother!’ They will take him by the hand, and at the same moment, destroy him. And so you will also be treated by them before long. Remember that this day, I have warned you to beware of such friends as these. I know the Long-Knives. They are not to be trusted.”

Stretching out before Pachgants-chilias were the days, the seasons, the decades, the centuries of systemic treachery, of lost villages and homelands, legions of dead, victims of pestilence, alcohol, and famine; a civilized yet shattered people, continually cast to the far-flung fringes of hostile wilderness, and at no point was the government moved to pity, at no point did they ever exercise compassionate restraint.

How could this wise chief know the abject depth of the iniquity to come? How could he know that no matter what evil transpired, and no matter how much his people suffered, all of it would always be blamed on the tide of history, all of it swept under a carpet of rationalized indifference that no speech, however impassioned and articulate, could ever shame such an inveterate nation to make just and long overdue amends.

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@

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