Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations

Minnesota Humanities Center and Minnesota Indian Affairs Council
St. Paul and Bemidji, MN

The Why Treaties Matter project represents a real and important “absent narrative” about the genesis of current culture. The goal of this project is to communicate, in a meaningful and truthful way, the history of the sovereignty of and treaties between nations in Minnesota territory (and, later, the state of Minnesota) to educators, students, and the general public.

This project is intended to share important cultural information with Native and non-Native peoples, so that they may better understand the true circumstances surrounding the land, its use, and the treatment of the land’s indigenous peoples today. Originally designed as an interactive traveling exhibit including twenty full-color banners of text and images, touchscreen and QR-coded videos, and an accompanying website, the project has expanded in response to community needs to include community engagement capacity building for host sites and educators, seven educator guides of classroom content, and an enhanced virtual exhibit at www.treatiesmatter.org.

Underscoring this partnership, knowledge, insight, and perspective of the members of the eleven sovereign nations of this place now called Minnesota has been central to this project. From this foundation of community involvement through interviews and exhibit content development and review, a vehicle has emerged for Dakota and Ojibwe voices to tell their own stories of sovereignty, adaptability, and sustainability throughout history and today.

Why Treaties Matter provides opportunities for both indigenous and non-indigenous Minnesotans to engage with and understand the relevance of U.S.-American Indian Treaties, and serves as an authentic educational resource on American-Indian experiences in K12 and higher education environments. It also provides a vehicle for deep community engagement and capacity building for all collaborators. Why Treaties Matter has engaged over 60,000 Minnesotans and been hosted in over sixty locations including schools and colleges, the Mayo Clinic, the Minnesota Department of Health, and Minnesota Department of Transportation, the state capitol during the 2012 legislative session, and 11 sovereign nations. In 2012, Why Treaties Matter received the Schwartz Prize from the Federation of State Humanities Councils for outstanding work in the public humanities.