Lake Superior Ojibway losses highest with treaty

The acting treaty agent at La Pointe, Robert Stuart, displayed no desire for talks with the Ojibway chiefs as he laid the conditions on which they could either sell their lands or have the government take them. The negotiations lasted just three days, concluding on Oct. 4, 1842.

The only concessions the chiefs could wring out of Stuart were that they could remain living on the lands for between 50 to 100 years, or as long as they did not cause trouble with the white settlers, or until the president ordered them to leave. They would, however, retain the rights to fishing, hunting, and rice harvesting in the territories they were ceding forever. Article Two of the written treaty stated it as: “The Indians stipulate for the right of hunting on the ceded territory, with the other usual privileges of occupancy, until required to remove by the President of the United States, and that the laws of the United States shall be continued in force, in respect to their trade and inter course with the whites, until otherwise ordered by Congress.”

There are 40 Ojibway names listed on the treaty as “First chiefs,” and “second chiefs,” who in the end, had no other option than to sign the treaty. Okondikan and Kis-ke-taw-wac (as it is spelled in the treaty, it was actually spelled Giishkitawag, meaning Cut Ear). Okondikan would have spelled his name Okandikan, meaning “Buoy,” and he signed for the Ontonagon band. Pe-na-shi (Bineshiinh, meaning “Bird”) and Guk-we-san-seesh (Akakwijenzhish, “Bad Little Groundhog”), signed for the L’Anse band.

The United States profited quite handsomely from the treaty. In acquiring the entire western half of the Upper Peninsula and the remaining strip of northern Wisconsin, the government agreed to “pay to the Chippewa Indians of the Mississippi, and Lake Superior, annually, for twenty-five years, twelve thousand five hundred dollars, in specie, ten thousand five hundred ($10,500) dollars in goods, two thousand ($2,000) dollars in provisions and tobacco, two thousand ($2,000) dollars for the support of two blacksmiths shops, (including pay of smiths and assistants, and iron steel &c.) one thousand ($1,000) dollars for pay of two farmers, twelve hundred ($1,200) for pay of two carpenters, and two thousand ($2,000) dollars for the support of the support of schools for the Indians party to this treaty; and further the United States engage to pay the sum of five thousand ($5,000) dollars as an agricultural fund, to be expended under the direction of the Secretary of War,” as the treaty words it.

The government acquired the richest copper and iron lands east of the Mississippi River for what actually amounted to eight cents per acre.

Eight cents.

Then, it came down to what the American Fur Company would profit from the deal.

Stuart had been an agent of the American Fur Company at its La Pointe post until the company went defunct in 1841. Now, he and others associated with the company stood in line to collect money that might or might not have been owed to them by the Ojibway, just like they had done during the 1837 treaty. Article Four of the La Pointe treaty included the statement:

“And also the sum of seventy-five thousand ($75,000) dollars, shall be allowed for the full satisfaction of their debts within the ceded district, which shall be examined by the commissioner to this treaty, and the amount to be allowed decided upon by him, which shall appear in schedule hereunto annexed. The United States shall pay the amount so allowed within three years.” Examined by the commissioner to this treaty — it was as easy as taking candy from a baby.

The first one in line with his hand out was the single richest man in the world, John Jacob Astor himself, whose claim was for $37,994.98. Of that Charles Borup was to receive just under $1,700. Borup was an agent of the American Fur Company trading post at LaPointe. He would received an additional $800 from the money given to the AFC. John Jacob Astor’s claim was $23,696.28. That is interesting to note, because Astor, the founder of the AFC, had retired in 1834, and sold the Northern Department of the company to his former partner and manager Ramsey Crooks.

A lawyer listed as Z. Platt filed 12 separate claims for various clients totaling $11,169.06. The lowest claim was for $18.80, in the name of J. B. Uoulle. The American Fur Company filed a claim for $13,365 30. Even William Brockway, the Methodist Mission preacher to the Ojibway at L’Anse filed a claim of debt.

The Mississippi Ojibway profited the most of all those present, for they ceded no land they actually occupied, but they would received payments for its cession. They, with the Wisconsin bands of Ojibway were given the legal right to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice on the lands occupied only by those Ojibway living in Upper Michigan and along the shore of Lake Superior. This would cause problems between the clans in later years.

The Ojibway residing in the western Upper Peninsula lost far more than they gained from the treaty of La Pointe. They had ceded tens of thousands of acres of land, some of it the most valuable in the United States, minerally, east of the Mississippi River. In time, they would also lose their culture, their way of life, their religion, and even their language would be stripped from them by the federal government. In turn, they were paid eight cents per acre, which was divided among three branches of the Ojibway People.