After the general failure to remove the Pembina Chippewas to Minnesota, the government was forced to review the validity of the Chippewa claim to the area north and west of Devils Lake. The Chippewa claimed their right to this land was derived from the several treaties. The government commission in charge of reviewing these claims concluded that, as nearly as they could ascertain, the Pembina Chippewa title to these lands, totaling between 8,000,000 and 10,000,000 acres, had never been ceded to the government, and their claim was recognized by neighboring tribes. The Commission was therefore forced to report that the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians had “as valid an original Indian title to the entire tract of land as any Indian tribe ever had to any tract”.
A commission was established in 1891 to work with a hand-selected committee of sixteen mixed and sixteen full bloods to represent the tribe and to undertake a process to eliminate people from the tribal rolls. This committee was composed of many of the oldest inhabitants of the Turtle Mountains and persons who were thought to be fully acquainted with most of the people who were truly affiliated with the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. These committee members were supplied by the commission with payment for their services.
This committee of 32 struck some 522 names from the tribal rolls almost immediately. The commission then went over the list of names remaining after this number had been stricken off, and with the entire committee first struck off all those whose American tribal relations were considered by any member of the committee as being in the least questionable. It then went over the remaining names carefully, making full inquiries concerning the relations, birthplace, former living and present location and all other matters pertaining to the question of their tribal relations, and made a complete list of those who were deemed by the commission to be both of American origin and authentic members of the Turtle Mountain Indians.
A list was then made of all persons whose names were stricken off the rolls, whether by the committee or this Commission, and copies of these lists were posted in conspicuous places throughout the reservation and also read at the churches at the Belcourt Mission and St. John. Special notices were also sent through the Indian police to individuals who had not been present at these places. With these lists was a notification that the Commission would proceed on a given day to hear the application of any who desired his or her name reinstated. A large number of cases were heard and with a few exceptions their claims were rejected. The Commission then went over the names of those who had been rejected, or had not responded to the notice, and completed their census in 1892.
The true intent of the commission in working with the committee of 32 to strike members from the rolls was clear. The Turtle Mountain Reservation was too small to accommodate allotment for all of the Indians, and the government was worried about having to settle claims due to a lack of land at Turtle Mountain, coupled with the fact that it had allowed too many white settlers into the Turtle Mountain region before legally settling all matters with the tribe. Ultimately, the commission was working to cover their mistake in creating a situation that could not now be changed; that it was impossible for a large number of Turtle Mountain Indians to take allotments within the two townships of the reservation.
The committee of 32 was left having to face a certain reality as well. There were only 13,000 acres of tillable land on the reservation, and Congress could not be induced under any circumstances to increase the size of that reservation due to rampant white settlement surrounding the reservation. The committee was asked to lay aside once and for all any hope of having the two township reservation increased to its 1882 limits again.
An attempt was made to purchase land for the Chippewa near the White Earth River at Fort Berthold, but no amount of persuasion could induce the Fort Berthold Indians to consider the subject of disposing of any of their reservation or receiving their neighbors, the Chippewas.
A faction headed by Little Shell, Red Thunder, Yellow Bird, Young Man, and others, complained bitterly of the action of the committee of thirty-two and the commission in cutting down the membership roll.
Kakenwash (chairman of the committee), Beaver, Yellow Day, Foggy Cloud, Offers-the-Pipe, Circling Hawk, Elevated, Red Bear, and many others also objected to the treatment that the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, a friendly band, had received from the hands of the Government, as compared with its treatment of the tribes concerned in the Minnesota massacre of 1862. Kakenwash asked the commission:
“Have we or our ancestors ever ceded the lands we claim? If we have, there must be some record of it on the flies in Washington, and if there is, we ask the commission to show it to us. If we have ceded this land we will no longer make a claim to it, but if we have not, we ask the Government to deal rightly with us. The Government has not taken the lands of other Indians, even its worst enemies, without securing the Indian title. What right, then, has the Government to reduce us to two townships? We are unlearned and cannot read or write, and we ask the commission not to deceive us, but to inform us truly whether or not this land has ever been ceded to the Government.”
The commission replied that it agreed that there was no relinquishment of the territory from them, but that there had been a question as to the location of the boundary line between them and the Sioux and also as to whether a part of this land claimed had not been the ancient home of the Assiniboines, but whether their claim was well founded or not, it was of no consequence. The Government was prepared to pay them a ‘reasonable price’ to extinguish their claims. Kakenwash replied that the government, powerful as it was, should be ashamed to take the lands from them when they were defenseless to protect it. The Chippewa could only appeal to the integrity of the Government. He stated: “Through all the Indian wars we have been the friend of the white man, and though often provoked by injustice and imposition, we have never resented. And yet we have noticed that every time the Sioux tribes have risen against the Government and killed white settlers, the Government has gone down into its pockets and increased their provisions, and paid them well for their lands, while it arbitrarily seeks to deprive us, who have at all times been its friend, of our homes.”
Others reiterated the tribe’s claim for the reservation to be returned to the 1882 limits and pleaded their love for their ancestral home at Turtle Mountain.
The commission again announced that it was not possible to increase the size of the reservation at Turtle Mountain, and that discussion of the matter was pointless. Little Shell and his delegation grew angry at the immovable stance of the commission and declared that unless their claims were met with some compromise, further discussion was indeed useless and they would leave and never consent to any treaty which would not give the tribe a reservation at the Turtle Mountains.
Members of the committee of thirty-two, with Little Shell abstaining, finally agreed to the proposal of the commission, but were unsatisfied. The one-million dollar settlement was viewed as but a meager sum as compared with what the Government has paid for the relinquishment of the Indian title to other tracts, the Indians argued that the government was, in fact, paying only 10-cents an acre for land, a large portion of which was classed among the best agricultural land in the State, while the government paid other Indians for similar lands $2.50 per acre (at Fort Totten and Sisseton/Wahpeton). This led to the agreement being derisively named the “Ten Cent Treaty”.
by Kade M. Ferris - THPO