August 04, 2010

The Sandy Lake tragedy

Someone posted this on Facebook yesterday. It's a tragedy I hadn't heard of before:

Sandy Lake TragedyThe Sandy Lake Tragedy was the culmination of a series of events centered in Sandy Lake, Minnesota, that resulted in the deaths in 1850 of several hundred Lake Superior Chippewa. Officials of the Zachary Taylor Administration and Minnesota Territory sought to relocate several bands of the tribe to areas west of the Mississippi River. By changing the location for fall annuity payments, the officials intended the Chippewa to stay there for the winter and lower their resistance to relocation. Due to delayed and inadequate payments of annuities and lack of promised supplies, about 400 Ojibwe, mostly men, (12% of the tribe) died of disease, starvation, and freezing. Ojibwe resistance increased and they effectively gained public support to achieve permanent reservations in their traditional territories.So we sent Indians into the cold without enough supplies and somehow expected them to live? Wow. Sandy Lake is basically a massacre that wasn't a massacre. It's about as unintentional a "tragedy" as the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk were.

Something like this happened to many Indians who weren't killed by the waves of disease. We cut them off from their traditional sources of food and shelter. Forced them into conditions akin to living in a concentration camp. And then express surprise when they grew angry or depressed, turned to substance abuse or violence, developed health problems, and died prematurely. Indians confined to a reservation were something like inmates confined to a prison, with many of the same pathologies.

We should relocate Ron Hart, Clint Didier, Ryan Murdough et al. to Sandy Lake for a winter without food or shelter. While we're at it, let's send all our political and cultural conservatives--Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Buchanan, and the entire Tea Party--there too. Then they can tell us what it's like to be poor, a minority, or an Indian.

Interesting results

Perhaps the most interesting part of this incident is the results:As a result of this tragedy, the Lake Superior Chippewa bands under the leadership of Chief Buffalo of La Pointe, pressed President Millard Fillmore to cancel the removal order. Many of the United States public were outraged about the government's treatment of the Ojibwe and supported the end of removal. Chief Buffalo called on Wisconsin residents to support them in their effort to stay in the territory. Not wanting to live with Indians among them, European Americans encouraged the establishment of Indian Reservations.

During the three years following the Sandy Lake events, Chief Buffalo negotiated hard and became a proponent for permanent reservations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. This strategy was detailed under the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe. The Chippewa/Ojibwe achieved their major goal--to stay within their traditional territories. Many of the bands agreed to the founding of Ojibwe Reservations and relocation to them. The majority of the reservations were created at already well-established Ojibwe communities. Often it required the aggregation of less powerful bands with their more powerful neighbors.
Good to hear that many Americans supported the Ojibwe. That confirms what I said in Custer Just a Product of His Time?--that people in the past knew they were doing wrong. That sending people to their deaths would've been wrong in Neanderthal times, not to mention 1850.

Most tribes would've preferred to remain free and unbounded by reservations, of course. But I didn't quite realize that we gave some a choice: removal or a reservation on their ancestral territory. I suspect the "Five Civilized Nations" would've preferred to stay in the Southeast on reservations, but we didn't give them that choice.

For more on the subject, see Taking Sides on Pequot Massacre and Why No Wounded Knee National Monument?


Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Sandy Lake tragedy and ancestors remembered

Rob said...

Useful background and source material on the subject:

Sandy Lake Tragedy—or the Chippewa Trail of Tears

Many history books continue to overlook the death and suffering of the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850. President Taylor’s administration and territorial officials wanted to move the Lake Superior Chippewa to lands to the west. Part of the scheme involved switching the annual treaty payments from Madeline Island in Wisconsin—spiritual gathering center of the Chippewa—to Sandy Lake in Minnesota. The trip required traveling by canoe and on foot for hundreds of miles. There were no supplies on hand when the Chippewa arrived in October. Agents finally made partial payments in December, but by then snow covered the ground and canoe routes were frozen. The officials responsible for the scheme hoped that worn-out tribal members wouldn’t make the trip home and would stay permanently. At Sandy Lake and on the trek home, more than 400 people died because of delayed and meager payments, tainted food, disease, inadequate housing and the cold weather.