By Bishop Amy Odgren
Last week, we announced that our elected leadership in Northeastern Minnesota Synod, in collaboration with Together Here Ministries, resolved to gift $185400 + $100 + $1100 to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe as a way of acknowledging our synod’s commitment to repairing relationships between and with Indigenous Peoples. The funds are from a portion of the proceeds of our synod's sale of land originally inhabited by Ojibwe (also known as the Chippewa) in the City of Duluth.
Since we released the news, some people have asked about the significance behind the amount of the funds. $185400 + $100 + $1100 honors the treaties made between the U.S. government and Ojibwe nations in 1854, 1855, and 1866. As a result of these treaties, it became possible for settlers to legally establish communities and benefit economically in the area we know as the Northeastern Minnesota Synod. There isn’t a church building or community in our synod that hasn’t been built upon ceded land. As such, our synod and many of its members have benefitted and continue to benefit, either directly or indirectly, from these treaties. It’s important for all of us to learn about the agreements made on our behalf in these treaties, how we are to live in response to these agreements, and how this all impacts the lives of our Indigenous neighbors. 1854 Treaty With an ever-growing need for lumber, developers saw the old growth forests in the north as a prime source of timber. The 1837 Treaty with the Chippewa, also known as the Pine Treaty, was signed as a result. Although recognized by the U.S. government as a cessation treaty, Lake Superior Chippewa communities assert that they never intended to give up the land – they only granted permission for harvest of white pines. Five years later, the 1842 Treaty with the Chippewa, commonly called the Mineral Treaty, was signed, establishing a “mineral district” in which the U.S. government could mine and retaining the rights of the Ojibwe of hunting and “other usual privileges of occupancy” on the territory. In 1848, surveyors found a vein of copper on the north shore of Lake Superior and outside the “mineral district” established in the 1842 Treaty. Michigan mining interests began pressuring the U.S. government to open the area for mining. At the same time, Minnesota Territorial Governor, Alexander Ramsey, collaborated with the Indian Agent in the Lake Superior territory to remove all Chippewa to west of the Mississippi River, citing violation by the Ojibwe of the parameters set in 1842 Treaty as grounds. In truth, they wanted access to the Lake Superior Chippewa’s annuity payments in order to boost the territory’s economy. The Sandy Lake Tragedy resulted. In response, a delegation of Lake Superior Chippewa chiefs traveled to Washington DC armed with a petition containing signatures of thousands of settlers who testified that the Ojibwe had not violated the treaty and should, therefore, not be removed. Although President Fillmore agreed, pressure for removal continued, resulting in the signing of the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe. Through the 1854 Treaty, the Ojibwe ceded northwestern Wisconsin and the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota, opening the area for the development of towns and mining operations. A designation in the 1854 treaty was the creation of reservations in upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota as well as the retention of Ojibwe people’s extensive rights to exercise “usual privileges of occupancy,” including hunting, fishing, and gathering on the land. In addition to annuity payments, the treaty indicated that “each head of a family, or single person over twenty-one years of age belonging to the Chippewas of Lake Superior, shall be entitled to eighty acres of land, to be selected by them under the direction of the President, and which shall be secured to them by patent in the usual form.” However, the U.S. government held the power to survey and administer the land allotments and change them if they saw fit. Grand Portage and Fond Du Lac Reservations are founded on land retained in the 1854 Treaty. 1855 Treaty Anuity payments are the annual payments that the U.S. government agreed to make in exchange for millions of acres of traditional Ojibwe lands. Without trade agreements, annuities were often needed to supplement hunting, fishing, and other uses of the land. The annuity system, however, was vulnerable to fraud and the willingness of the U.S. government to honor their agreement. With the complete collapse of the fur trade, the 1855 Treaty marked a significant change in the economics of the Ojibwe people west of the Mississippi River, shifting their primary economic source to annuity payments and changing their connection to the land through land allotments. Through the Treaty of 1855, the Mississippi, Pillager, and Lake Winnibigoshish Bands of Chippewa ceded territory in what is now the northwestern portion of Northeastern Minnesota Synod. Like the 1854 Treaty, the 1855 Treaty allotted land to individuals and families. By allotting land to individual families, the U.S government attempted to replace the centuries-old spiritual connection of Ojibwe people to the land with a new system of private property on which Ojibwe people could become farmers. In addition to the Chippewa, the 1855 Treaty gave missionaries the option to buy 180 acres each on the reservation. The 1855 Treaty did not contain language retaining the Ojibwe peoples’ right to exercise the usual privileges of occupancy. Ojibwe communities continue to assert that they mandated this clause and believed it was included since it had been part of all the other treaties negotiated with Chippewa tribes. To this day, band members continue to fight for the usufructuary rights they have been denied. Since the signing of the 1855 Treaty, reservation lands have been ceded, stolen, co-opted, vacated, restored, and enlarged through treaties, acts of Congress, and the actions of corporations, Indian agents and other “entrepreneurs.” Today, Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Reservations are founded on lands retained through the 1855 Treaty. 1866 Treaty During the 1854 Treaty process, the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe retained an area of land that included Lake Vermillion. Twelve years later, in 1866, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs reported to Congress that discoveries of gold had been made in that region. It didn’t take long for gold mining companies to become incorporated in Minnesota and armed miners soon moved into this area. Although over 3,000 acres were retained as Ojibwe land through earlier treaties, the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, wanting to live in peaceable relationship with the U.S. government, ceded their territory, retaining a much smaller area for a new Bois Forte Reservation. It was later discovered that the State geologist had incorrectly identified magnetic pyrite, commonly called fool’s gold, as gold. The land was not returned to the Ojibwe people. By 1867, only about 70 white people remained in the ceded territory. Today, the Bois Forte Reservation is founded on land they retained in the 1866 treaty. This is just a brief description of the important treaties that ceded the land, which our synod geography encompasses. We are on the homelands of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) Nation – who once lived, worked, and worshipped here for many years prior to anyone whose European ancestors founded Lutheran churches, owned property, or built buildings. The gift given to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, a federally recognized tribal government comprised of the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, and White Earth Bands, presents opportunities for synod churches and church members to reflect on what it means to be in relationship with God and one another and how we relate to our collective history. The amount of $185400 + $100 + $1100 will provide opportunities to learn about, learn from, and be in deepening relationship with Indigenous Peoples and Tribal nations here and now. I encourage all our synod congregations - members and leaders alike - to become educated about the Indigenous Peoples who thrived prior to European contact within your specific local contexts. In a shared commitment to the repairing of relationships with Indigenous Peoples, participation in and support of creative programs of restorative justice and reparations could be further accomplished – this might lead to the consideration of financial gifts, transfer or sale of real property, including returning land (and any structures built on it) after satisfying any financial obligations, to the appropriate Native communities, and when direct return is not feasible or not desired by the Indigenous people, to return proceeds from the sale of the land to local Indigenous led ministries or organizations. Our theology informs our understanding of God’s unconditional love and God’s amazing diverse creation in which each person is created in God’s very own image. Our shared histories contain the effects of breached trust; a breach that is impacting our abilities to live fully in a way that reflects God’s unconditional love for all God’s amazing diverse creation. It is only right that we do this work of repair which has caused such pain to others who are also God’s very own.