“Preserving, Protecting and Promoting the Dakota Culture for Future Generations”
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Minneapolis History is really Sioux history.

Minneapolis history before the middle of the 19th Century is really the history of the Dakota (Sioux) American Indians. It is believed that the Dakota people lived and flourished in the area to be known as Minneapolis before Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Luth (known as Duluth), and Father Louis Hennepin visited the area in the 1680s. The Dakota bands were well established in the culture of hunting and gathering and were skilled in horsemanship. The other dominant Indian Nation in the area was the Ojibwe. Intertribal fighting between the Ojibwe and the Dakota had a long history. By 1800, many Dakota Mdewakanton had settled along the lower Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers below the sacred site of the Falls of St. Anthony. To help stabilize the relationship between the two nations, in 1825, under the auspices of United States government agents, the Dakota and the Ojibwe agreed to the establishment of a demarcation between their tribal areas. The line ran northwest across Minnesota from the St. Croix River on the east to the Red River on the northwest. Starting in 1848, members of the Ho-Chunk Nation who had been driven from their original lands in Wisconsin were temporarily resettled between the Ojibwe and Dakota to act as a buffer. A significant number of these Ho-Chunk refugees were unhappy with the situation, and quietly managed to return to their homes in Wisconsin against the wishes of the United States government. In 1829 a Dakota Mdewakanton village was located on the west shore of a lake that would be known as Lake Calhoun in the area that would become Minneapolis. Cloud Man, also known as Man-of-the-Sky (Ma-hpi-ya-wi-ca-sta), was chief of this village, known as Reyataotonwe (Inland Village) or Eatonville (for John H. Eaton). Cloud Man agreed with the Fort Snelling Indian Agent, Lawrence Taliaferro, to have his band learn to farm using the plow.

Philander Prescott was the government farmer who worked with the Lake Calhoun band. Volunteer missionaries, Gideon and Samuel Pond, were enlisted to work with them. Samuel Pond took the opportunity to write down the Dakota language and compile a dictionary. In 1839, Cloud Man and his band moved to Oak Grove in Bloomington because of renewed conflict with the Ojibwe. Gideon Pond also moved to Oak Grove. Other Mdewakanton villages included Chief Wabasha’s at Winona, Wacouta’s at Red Wing, Little Crow’s at South St. Paul, Black Dog’s near the present site of the power plant on the Minnesota River in Burnsville, Pennesha’s near the mouth of Nine Mile Creek in Bloomington, and Chief Shakopee at the community of Shakopee. These were the main villages during the years 1805 to 1852 in the area to become southern Minnesota. By 1819, the Mdewakanton traded furs with the American Fur Company at Mendota. In 1838, an agreement with chiefs of the Dakota tribe opened the lands east of the Mississippi River to private ownership by white settlers. By 1839, some five hundred non-native persons lived in the area. The Mdewakanton tribe numbered about 2,150 in 1846. By that time, significant changes in the region had occurred, including the logging of the trees and turning prairie lands into farm land. The buffalo population had been killed off and the populations of deer, bear, and other animals had been greatly depleted. During this same time period, the disease whooping cough killed many. The Dakota were accustomed to living through hard times but now, as they were finding it difficult to find food, they saw the settlers and the soldiers having adequate rations. In a weakened condition due to health, lack of resources and food, life grew harder, alcoholism spread and the debt they owed to the traders increased. The buying and selling of land was a concept foreign to the Dakota but they had become dependent on the goods available at the stores and were in need of monies to purchase the goods. To receive monies from the U.S. government, they agreed to sign a treaty to give up their rights to their ancestral lands.

In 1851, the Mdewakanton signed the treaty of Traverse des Sioux. With this treaty, the lands west of the Mississippi River were purchased from the Dakota and the area opened for settlement the following year. The Dakota gave up their rights to the lands lying east of the Red River, Lake Traverse, the Big Sioux River, and the area south of the boundary line of 1825. The treaty meant the abandonment of hereditary lands, a bowing to white power, reservations along the Minnesota River, temporary gifts, a trust fund, and cash payments, which in large part were diverted to satisfy debts to the traders. The Dakota people moved on to a strip of land ten miles wide along either side of the Minnesota River from Lake Traverse to the Yellow Medicine River. Some worked to become farmers while others hunted, but ten years later it appeared that many of the Dakota peoples might starve. Episcopal Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple understood the consequences of the American treaty system. He realized the significant role the Indian agents played, the need for reform of the treaty system, the need for law and order and control of the liquor situation, and the significance of a relationship under which the Indians would be fairly treated. Whipple denounced the administration of Indian affairs and stated that the guilt lies at the “Nation’s door.” According to analysis by the historian William Watts Folwell, the American Indian policy was “calculated to invite outbreaks of passion and revenge.”

In 1862, the United States government was focusing its attention on the Civil War and neglected to pay the Dakota in a timely fashion. The Dakota people were plagued by hunger; they were disgusted with the unfulfilled promises from the government, and they were dissatisfied with reservation life. This condition drove many back to their old lands which now were being farmed or logged. The stage was set for conflict between the two very different cultures. A sudden, violent attack on settlers in the southeastern part of the state took place on August 17, 1862 which set in motion a violent killing spree by the Dakota, the military, and the settlers. The conflict lasted until September 26th. Governor Henry Sibley was in charge of the military. The area around Fort Ripley in southwestern Minnesota had the most conflict between the Dakota, the military and the new settlers. By September 26th, the Dakota realized they had not gained control over the military. The deaths of about 500 whites and the destruction of property evoked cries for their removal. Over three hundred captured warriors were initially held either at Mankato (those who had been condemned) or Fort Snelling. President Lincoln pardoned all but those who had been condemned to death for the killing of settlers. Thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged. The others held in captivity finally received their sentence, in 1863. Those sentenced were moved out of the state of Minnesota, mostly to the Missouri Valley (not far from Fort Randall). Those who had been convicted (but not hung) were sent to Davenport, Iowa. The remaining Dakota were exiled to a reservation at Crow Creek (in the area that is now South Dakota). In 1866, the Dakota at Crow Creek were moved to the Santee Reservation in northeastern Nebraska. The Ho-Chunk remaining in Minnesota in 1862, by then residing primarily in the region around Mankato, were also forced by the United States government to move west as a result of the war, even though they had not participated in the fighting. In the 1870s only a few Dakota remained in Minnesota. Those living closest to Minneapolis lived at Oak Grove in Bloomington at the residence of Gideon Pond or at a remnant of a Dakota scout camp in Shakopee. A few also lived in Bloomington and in Mendota. In 1884, a Dakota named Good Thunder purchased land near the site of one of the skirmishes of the 1862 conflict. Later others joined him. With the help of government appropriations, the colony eventually became the Lower Sioux Community under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In 1886, government appropriations helped to buy land at Prior Lake. Migration and land purchases continued in the state with people settling in growing communities as well as in the metropolitan areas. By 1899, seventy Dakota people were living in Hennepin County. In 1910 this number dropped to 27. By 1930, the census noted 199. In 1970, a total of 6,722 Dakota people lived in Hennepin County. In the 1990 census, the Native American population in Minneapolis was 12,144.

Minneapolis Becomes Part of the United States

From the 1680s forward, the area to include Minneapolis was “on paper” under the European rule of the countries of France, England, and Spain until finally becoming a part of the United States of America in 1784. France’s occupation of the area came from the visit made by Father Louis Hennepin in 1680. By the operation of the Franco-Spanish Treaty of 1762, the area of Minnesota west of the Mississippi and south of the Hudson Bay watershed passed from the dominion of France to that of Spain. For the next 40 years it was under the proprietorship of Louisiana. In 1803, after briefly returning to French control, these lands were purchased from France and thereafter called the Louisiana Purchase (this was the area west of the Mississippi including part of the area to become Minneapolis). The area to the east of the Mississippi passed to England at the close of the French and Indian War (1763). This area, including parts of Minnesota (and Minneapolis), became part of the United States after the War of Independence. When the United States accepted the Virginia Colony’s deed of cession (1783), the area became the (old) Northwest Territory. Out of this area were later carved the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, and part of Minnesota. To demonstrate the western reach of United States’ power and the northern reaches of the Louisiana Territory, the U.S. military established Fort Snelling. The Fort Snelling site was formally acquired by Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike from some of the Dakota chiefs in 1805. The land Fort Snelling encompassed took in nearly the complete area of present-day Minneapolis and almost half of the present-day city of St. Paul. The original Fort Snelling, headquartered at the junction of the Minnesota and the Mississippi Rivers, was established in 1819 to meet the rapidly changing conditions in the Northwest Territory. The first commanding officer was Henry Leavenworth; Josiah Snelling replaced Leavenworth in 1820.

Naming of Minneapolis

The community of St. Anthony on the east side of the Mississippi River near St. Anthony Falls was surveyed and platted as a townsite in 1849, the same year the territory of Minnesota was established. In 1852, President Millard Fillmore approved an act of Congress reducing the Fort Snelling reservation, thereby opening the land west of the river to settlers, although most of the settlers did not receive clear title until 1855.Also occurring in 1852 was the creation of Hennepin County by the Territorial Legislature. Hennepin County was named after Father Louis Hennepin, a Catholic friar of Belgian birth and an explorer in the service of France. Father Hennepin named the falls of the Mississippi “St. Anthony” after his patron saint, Anthony of Padua. Father Hennepin, in 1683, published his memoirs of the exploration in a publication, Description of Louisiana, Newly Discovered of the Southwest of New France. The first commissioners selected the land to the west of St. Anthony Falls as the county seat although the settlement there was without municipal existence, or even a name. The first name selected by the county commissioners in October 1852, was Albion. However, it proved unpopular. Other names for the young community considered but discarded included All Saints, Lowell, Brooklyn, Addiseville, and Winona. The name Minnehapolis was selected by popular acclaim following schoolmaster Charles Hoag’s proposal to the editor of the St. Anthony Express, George D. Bowman. The name came from a derivative of laughing waters, “Minnehaha,” and the Greek suffix for city, “polis,” or city of the falls. Bowman published the name in the paper in November 5, 1852 and in the November 12th issue it was given favorable review. The ‘h’ was dropped early on; the literal meaning is “city of waters”. Minneapolis was authorized by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1856 as a town. In 1858 the town of Minneapolis government was organized. Then in 1866 under a legislative act, the city of Minneapolis was incorporated. However, the act established boundaries for the city that included St. Anthony for certain purposes although that city was allowed to retain its corporate existence as a separate municipality. Minneapolis was divided into four wards. The act proved unpopular with residents of both St. Anthony and Minneapolis, the result being that there was no election of city officers, hence the act did not become effective. At the next legislative session, another act of incorporation was passed and approved in 1867. This time, St. Anthony was not part of it. Dorilus Morrison was the first mayor. The two communities of Minneapolis and St. Anthony were not joined until 1872.

Falls of St. Anthony

The Falls of St. Anthony and its islands, like many other natural formations, were sacred to the Indians. In the early years of the development of Minneapolis and St. Anthony the falls were a popular tourist attraction. By the 1850s lumbermen and millers were interested in the hydro power it offered. In 1857, a great canal was constructed along First Street South to improve the distribution of water to the fast growing milling industry. Other dams and tunnel projects also were undertaken to direct the waterflow and power for the various mills. Concern for the falls and the impact on the mills was paramount by 1866. The riverbed of the falls consisted of a thin layer of limestone sitting on top of approximately 100 feet of sandstone. The sandstone was easy to tunnel into but not structurally strong. Several techniques were attempted to protect the falls by building an apron over the falls, but in 1867 and again in 1870, floods took out the aprons. Monies for these protective construction projects were raised on a local, state, and even national level. The most disastrous event took place on October 5, 1869, when a 2,500-foot long tunnel that was being constructed as a tailrace for exhausting the water between Nicollet and Hennepin Islands began to fill up with water. By the following day a maelstrom (a violent whirlpool that sucks all the objects within a given radius) was sucking rocks and debris into the tunnel. It seemed that the galvanized manpower of Minneapolis and St. Anthony were going to provide the heroic efforts needed to stop the maelstrom. But it took almost two years of various attempts and the cooperation of both the communities of Minneapolis and St. Anthony, the mill owners, and finally the assistance of the United States Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize the falls. By the end the communities and mill owners understood how important the falls were to their livelihoods. Key players in the preservation and near destruction of the falls in the 1860s include Alexander Ramsey, Ignatius Donnelly, Hercules L. Dousman, William W. Eastman, John L. Merriman, George A. Brackett, John Jarvis, and Franklin Cook.

River Transport

Water was significant in everyday life for those living around the area that would become Minneapolis. Early travelers learned the waterways and traveled by canoe, barge, boat, and steamboat. However, the Falls of St. Anthony prevented large vessels from going much beyond Fort Snelling. A Dakota woman operated the first documented ferry (using a canoe) in the area in 1840. In the 1840s and ’50s the Mississippi River, which flows through the heart of Minneapolis, was a significant vehicle for transporting logs and for supplying the power to run the mills in Minneapolis and St. Anthony Falls. Although the Mississippi River flows through the city, the Falls of St. Anthony cut off navigation of the river. In the 1850s, numerous projects were promoted in hopes of enabling steamboats to come up to the falls. However, byproducts of the sawmills and industrial waste detracted from the Falls and reduced the water flow. By the 1860s, the United States Army Corps of Engineers had agreed with the recommendation of the local business owners and developers to deepen the river and make it navigable by the building of locks and dams. However, it wasn’t until 1937 that the United States Congress approved financing for the Upper Minneapolis Harbor Development Project. The project was to extend a 9-foot channel in the Mississippi River by 4.6 miles. In 1956, the St. Anthony Falls Lower Lock and Dam was completed as far as the Northern Pacific Railway bridge just upstream from the Washington Avenue bridge. The St. Anthony Falls Upper Lock and Dam was completed in 1963. The completion of these locks and dams made it possible for numerous commercial and pleasure vessels to navigate up the river to and beyond the only waterfall on the Mississippi River.


In 1862, the St. Paul and Pacific Railway laid tracks between St. Paul and St. Anthony, bringing the village’s first railroad. This railroad, which would become the Great Northern, crossed the river into Minneapolis at Nicollet Island in 1866. The first all-rail line connecting Minneapolis and Chicago opened in 1867. As railway track increased, railroads supplanted the earlier settlement patterns along the rivers. The population grew in communities that were serviced by the railroads. Minneapolis grew in population, prosperity, and in size, prompting the demand for rail connections for passengers as well as freight. A man by the name of James J. Hill became manager of the St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Manitoba Railway (principal forerunner of the Great Northern). The Stone Arch Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River just below the St. Anthony Falls, was built by Hill and completed in 1883. That same year, a jubilee was held in Minneapolis celebrating the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad all the way to the West Coast. By 1889, there were twenty independent railway lines branching out from Minneapolis, reaching all regions of the country. Minneapolis was also connected to the Canadian Pacific Railroad at Sault Ste. Marie by the Soo Line, completed in 1887. In 1889, the Milwaukee Road built a new passenger station at Third Street and Washington Avenue. In 1891 an average of 1,080 railcars per day entered Minneapolis, carrying everything from wheat to corn to wood to bricks to household goods. The railway service was extremely important during its heyday to the health and economy of the city and its residents. By 1900, 75% of the nation’s freight went by rail. Rail service continued to grow until after WWI. By 1925 passenger service was down 50% in Minnesota. The financial crisis in the 1930s delivered a crippling blow to the rail companies. During WWII, freight and troops were moved over the nation’s rails. After the war people returned to their cars. Rail service is still the principal mode of transporting freight but passenger service is just a fraction of the total rail service. A reflection on the times, the Milwaukee Road Depot ceased being used as a passenger station in 1971. Today the Milwaukee Road Depot is the city’s only reminder of its once bustling train stations. (The Great Northern Station was built in 1914 and razed in 1978.) Empty for many years, the Milwaukee Road Depot and train shed have been transformed into a hotel, restaurant and ice rink complex.


As early as the 1850s lumber was important to the development of Minneapolis. The milling of wheat likewise became increasingly significant as new strains were found that were winter hardy (spring wheat) and new milling processes were developed. Saw milling and flour milling both proved financially rewarding, establishing the area as a significant commercial district. Early key milling figures included Franklin Steele, Cadwallader C. Washburn, John Sargent Pillsbury and his nephew Charles A. Pillsbury, George H. Christian, brothers Edmund and Nicholas La Croix, and George T. Smith. Within a few decades the mills that were clustered around St. Anthony Falls led the world in the production of lumber and flour. A v-shaped dam spanned the river just above the falls and diverted water to either side, where it powered the mills that lined the riverbanks. Local millers and engineers were responsible for several technological advances in flour milling, including the “middlings purifier,” a process that could make hard, winter wheat into clean, white flour that was salable. This process helped make Minneapolis flour world-renowned and the city led the world in flour production from 1882 to 1930. Dominating the milling district was the Washburn A Mill, of the Minneapolis Mill company, built in 1874 and at that time owned by Cadwallader Washburn, Governor of Wisconsin. It was the pride of the city and when it was destroyed by fire in 1878, the future of flour milling in Minneapolis was in question. Washburn rebounded, however, and the new “A” Mill built the next year was even larger than its predecessor. In tandem with the growth of flour milling was the growth of grain trading. The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce (later to be named the Minneapolis Grain Exchange) was established in 1881 to purchase grain from the Midwest region and ship it to the East. The Chamber of Commerce rapidly established Minneapolis as an important terminal grain market. The number of bushels of wheat shipped from Minneapolis to the East jumped from less than 200,000 bushels in 1881 to 2 million bushels in 1882. By 1885, Minneapolis was the number one wheat receiving market in the United States. By 1891, 21 million bushels of wheat moved from Minneapolis to the East and overseas. Minneapolis eventually became, and remains today, the largest cash exchange market in the world. Legislation enacted in 1885 gave the state power to regulate and license grain elevator companies. The companies in turn were allowed to issue commercial paper on grain they received on consignment. Not only did this facilitate operations of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce but went far to establish Minneapolis as a major financial center. Lumbering prospered because high quality timber was available in abundance, the Mississippi River provided a means to convey the logs to waiting mills, and with the rush of immigrants moving into the area, there was a demand for the milled wood. From 1849 to 1852 the number of saw mills increased from one to four and daily production capacity went from 15,000 to 50,000 board feet. By 1869, there were 18 mills manufacturing lumber at or near the Falls of St. Anthony, and the number of board feet these mills produced per year increased to 90,734,595. Key players included Franklin Steele, Caleb Cushing, Robert Ratoul, Thomas B. Walker, Thomas H. Shevlin, Henry C. Akeley, and S.C. Hall.

During the first decades of the 20th Century, first lumbering and then flour milling became less significant in the city’s economy. The white pine in northern Minnesota, which had helped build St. Paul, St. Louis, and numerous other cities along the Mississippi, was depleted. The last sawmill in Minneapolis, the Carpenter-Lamb Mill, closed in 1921. By 1931, Minneapolis had lost its place as the nation’s largest flour producer, a title it held for 50 years. A variety of factors contributed to the decline of flour milling in the area, including tariff changes favoring other markets, higher freight rates, decreased supply of spring wheat, decreased demand for high-grade flour, and cheaper sources of power other than water.

However, many companies with roots in the milling, flour, and lumber business went on to diversify and grow. Will Cargill established his grain elevator company in Minneapolis in 1865. Today the company, which is the nation’s largest private corporation, is international in scope and active in a wide range of agricultural and industrial sectors.

The Pillsbury Company, founded in Minneapolis in 1869, has been one of America’s oldest and best-known names in food retailing. The Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant are known throughout the U.S., and Häagen-Dasz is another well-known Pillsbury brand. Pillsbury was acquired by London-based Grand Metropolitan PLC in 1989, becoming Diageo PLC in 1997.

In 2001, Diageo PLC was acquried by General Mills, a local company that grew out of the milling company of Washburn Crosby in 1928.

Super Valu, the second-largest food wholesaler and distributor in the U.S., originated in the merger of two Minneapolis wholesale grocers in the late 19th century, B.S. Bull & Company and Newell and Harrison. The company undertook a number of acquisitions and mergers, changing its name to Super Valu Stores in 1951.

Ancillary industries that sprung from the grain and lumber industries included sash and door factories, furniture factories, farm implement manufacture (for example, Minneapolis Moline), and linseed oil processing (a precursor to paints and varnishes), with Minnesota Paints founded in 1870, becoming Valspar in 1970. Another significant local industry was the textile industry, as exemplified by Munsingwear (founded in 1886) and North Star Woolen Mills (founded in 1860 and for a time the largest manufacturer of fine woolen blankets in the country.) These industries were well established and remained strong, partly due to the network of railroads that was then in place to transfer their products.

Other Industries

In the 1890/91 Minneapolis City Directory, four advertising agencies were listed. By 1925, there were 60 advertising agents listed in Minneapolis. One of the fairly early agencies was the John H. Mitchell Advertising Agency. Mitchell began in the business in 1903. His agency managed accounts for companies such as Munsingwear, Toastmaster, Anacin, Minneapolis Moline, and Pure Oil. Minneapolis began to come into its own as a force in the advertising and creative services industry during the Great Depression. The products promoted for the clients were mostly food products, heavy equipment and electronics. As communication improved, it became less and less significant for the client and the advertising agency to be in the same state, much less the same city. Campbell-Mithun Advertising (now Campbell Mithun Esty) started in 1933, with offices in downtown Minneapolis. The firm quickly began to gain prestigious accounts, and established a name for itself as one of the most reliable and creative advertising firms west of the Mississippi. Other advertising agencies, both large and small, began to spring up in Minneapolis and surrounding cities. Martin/Williams Inc. started in 1947 in the productive post-war years. Other agencies that are still a large force in the local advertising scene include Fallon McElligott, founded in 1981, and Carmichel Lynch Spong, started in 1962. These four Minneapolis firms, the largest in the state, had almost $2 billion in billings in 1998, making them, along with a number of smaller firms, a force in the city’s economy.

Manufacturing interests were also growing during the early part of the 20th century as well. A local firm, Minneapolis Electric Heat Regulator Company, was manufacturing the automatic thermostat, which was finally catching on with consumers. That company moved into a new factory at 4th Avenue and 28th Street and changed its name to the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company. In 1927, the company merged with its principal competitor, Honeywell Heating Specialties Co., of Indiana. The newly formed company, Honeywell, was headquartered in Minneapolis. Honeywell went on to become a Fortune 500 company, and was based in Minneapolis until late 1999.

Minneapolis’ diverse economy has always included a significant high-technology component. In the 1960s and 1970s the city had a strong computer hardware manufacturing industry, bolstered by such giants as Honeywell and Control Data Corporation. Although not headquartered in Minneapolis, Control Data had a major presence in the city at a Northside manufacturing plant, which company founder William Norris started to provide employment and economic development for that part of the city. Both companies were major competitors to IBM; Control Data focused on supplying large-scale scientific computers, while Honeywell concentrated on large sharing systems and communications. By the early 1970s, Honeywell was the second largest U.S. computer company, and 47 computer companies were located in Minneapolis. However, in the 1980s, the computer industry began to migrate from mainframes to personal computers. That industry never developed to a large extent locally, and business and employment shifted to other technology industries.

Local technology companies have been bolstered by such organizations as the Minnesota Business Partnership and Minnesota Technology, Inc., both located in Minneapolis, and by the continuing interest of the University of Minnesota in supporting technology-based development. One of the industries that began to develop in Minneapolis in the 1980s and 90s was the computer software industry. These businesses, though typically smaller in size than those in the heyday of the large computer, are a significant source of employment and economic growth, with a total of 106 software companies located in Minnesota in 1999.

Also important is the biomedical industry, which is epitomized by Medtronic Inc. Medtronic, founded in 1949 in Minneapolis by Earl Bakken, is still one of the leading medical technology companies in the world. The state’s medical technology industry, referred to as the “Medical Alley,” owes much to the University of Minnesota medical school. Many of the state’s more than 500 medical device companies trace their beginning to the University of Minnesota, either through alumni or scientific innovation, making Minneapolis a pivotal hub even for those companies not headquartered here. Another of the company giants in Minneapolis was started by Curtis Carlson, an industrious University of Minnesota graduate in 1938. Carlson noted with interest the relatively new practice of giving trading stamps as a premium to store customers. This premium was a new incentive to build customer store loyalty. The Gold Bond Stamp Company was the brainchild of Curt Carlson. The original company was a mail drop and desk space in the Plymouth Building in downtown Minneapolis. A very modest beginning with years of struggle eventually led to landing a major client, the Super Valu Food Store chain. At many stores where people shopped, both locally and around the country, they received Gold Bond stamps with their purchases. The stamps could be saved and redeemed for premiums, and many people today can remember having their moms sit them down at the kitchen table to glue stamps into books. Trading stamps became extremely successful. By the 1960s when companies began to lose interest in trading stamps, Curt Carlson diversified into other areas: hotels, restaurants, catalog showrooms, real estate and manufacturing and transformed the company into Carlson Companies. Carlson headed the Carlson Companies until his daughter Marilyn Carlson Nelson succeeded him to became the chief operating officer in 1998, and was elected chair of the board in 1999. One of the most important retailers headquartered in Minneapolis is Dayton Hudson Corporation, which in January 2000 changed its corporate name to Target. From its beginnings in 1902, Dayton Hudson had by the late 1990s grown to be the fourth largest retailer in the United States, with stores in 38 states. The company is legendary for its philanthropy, contributing to a wide variety of charitable organizations, and is also recognized for corporate responsibility in other areas and good management. In 2001, the stores formerly known as Dayton’s, owned by Target Corporation, were renamed Marshall Field’s.

Best Buy, a major U.S. consumer electronics retailer, got its start in Minneapolis as Sound of Music, Inc., in 1963. Richard Schulze started the company to capture a share of the home and car stereo retail market and the company continued to expand, becoming Best Buy in 1983.

The city continues to have a strong, resilient and diverse economy. One indicator is the city’s perfect bond rating from 1963 to 2000. (In 2001, two bond houses, Standard & Poors and Fitch, continued the City’s top rating, while Moody’s downgraded their rating by one notch.)

Central Business District
Early commercial activity prospered on the east side of the Mississippi River in what was then the town of St. Anthony. The first store opened on Main Street in 1848 and other business establishments soon followed. To this day, the street retains its cobblestone charm and two buildings originating from the 1850s remain standing. The first commercial district on the west side of the river centered on Bridge Square, where Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues came together. The original City Hall, built in 1873, was the anchor. As the area became more congested, the business district began expanding south from Washington Avenue. Nicollet Avenue became the primary shopping street with the opening of stores such as Powers (1881), Donaldson’s (1884), Young Quinlan (1894), and Dayton’s (1902). Elizabeth Quinlan was the first and only woman-clothing buyer in the country at the time her ready-to-wear store opened. The construction of the Lumber Exchange building in 1885 helped establish Hennepin Avenue as the primary office district. Gradually, Hennepin Avenue took on another dimension, that of the theater district. At least twenty-five theaters were entertaining customers by 1916. Meanwhile, the office and financial district shifted to Marquette and 2nd Avenues, where it remains today. Bridge Square was transformed into Gateway Park in 1915. Because of its strategic location, with proximity to the railroad stations where numerous newcomers disembarked, to the river, and to the city itself, it was to be the “vestibule of the city”. The park had comfort stations, a classic fountain, a pavilion, formal gardens, and a George Washington Memorial Flagstaff. The inscription on the pavilion read “The Gateway: More than her gates the city opens her heart to you.” The park failed to live up to expectations, however, because nearby cheap hotels and rooming houses gradually transformed the area into the city’s “Skid Row”.

Gateway Park became Gateway Redevelopment in the 1950s in a massive urban renewal program. One aspect of this redevelopment was the decision to relocate the new Minneapolis Public Library to 4th Street and Nicollet Avenue. The library opened in 1961 and was intended to lead the way for regenerating the city’s north end. When ground was broken for the new library in 1958, planners hoped that someday the library would be surrounded by new hotels, public buildings and park space, instead of the run-down brick buildings that stood nearby. The library did indeed bring about a slow rebirth; by the 1980s, posh condominiums replaced the parking lots that had replaced the aged warehouses and bars. However, by the 1990s, the library again became an island in a sea of empty parking lots, as both the neighboring hotels, the old Nicollet and the newer Sheraton Ritz, were torn down.

A unique climate-related addition to the downtown landscape in more recent years was the development of the skyway system. The first all-weather pedestrian skyway was built in 1962, spanning 7th Street South between Marquette and 2nd Avenue. Today more than 50 blocks are connected by these second story walkways. In addition to providing all-season convenience for downtown residents, employees, and visitors, the skyway system connects numerous and varied retail outlets. It is reported that downtown Minneapolis has more retail outlets in a four-block area than any other city in the country. Also in the 1960s, Nicollet Avenue in the downtown district was converted to Nicollet Mall, a curving, tree-lined pedestrian and transit mall that is closed to automobile traffic. The Mall is accented with fountains and flower beds and hosts a busy farmers’ market in the summer. Winter amenities include popular nighttime parades from Thanksgiving through Christmas featuring brightly-lit floats and participants.

Governance and Infrastructure
Minneapolis developed later than St. Anthony because much of the area west of the Mississippi River was occupied by the Fort Snelling Military Reservation. Although there were “squatters” who had settled in the area, registration of claims was not accomplished until 1855, when the reduction of Fort Snelling was ordered by President Millard Fillmore. The town of Minneapolis was finally authorized by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1856 and the first town council was organized in 1858. In 1867, the town was upgraded to a city by a charter issued by the state legislature and the city’s first mayor, Dorilus Morrison, was elected. Though reluctant to relinquish their individual identities, St. Anthony and Minneapolis agreed to merge in 1872 under the name of Minneapolis. The new charter, written by the state legislature, provided for a mayor, comptroller, treasurer, and a city council. There were ten wards with two aldermen representing each ward. The first mayor of the merged cities was Eugene M. Wilson. By this time, the police force numbered ten full time officers. In 1879, the volunteer fire department was replaced by a paid department consisting of 59 men and eight companies.

The city’s infrastructure grew by leaps and bounds in the last twenty years of the 19th century. The first hydroelectric station in the United States began supplying water power at St. Anthony Falls in 1882. In the years from 1885 to 1890, 150 miles of water mains were laid. In 1889, the street railway system electrified its first line. In 1889 and 1890, 145 miles of sidewalks were constructed. By 1908 there were about 125 miles of paved streets. Work began on the city’s sewer system as early as 1871, and by the early 1900s, there were 225 miles of sewers in the city.

In 1884 the city occupied 24 square miles; by 1889 the boundaries had expanded to cover 53.5 square miles. With the city’s last major annexation of land in 1927, the total land area of the city became 58.7 square miles. The population of Minneapolis exceeded 300,000 by 1910 and governing a city of such size was becoming more complex. In 1920, voters approved a home rule charter for the city. It provided for the election of a mayor, city treasurer, city comptroller, a city council, members of a board of education, board of park commissioners, library board, and a board of estimate and taxation. Home rule granted the city’s governing body exclusive authority to deal with matters municipal or local in nature.

As the city was growing in size, population, and prosperity in the latter part of the 19th century, there were foresighted individuals who wanted to see the city’s natural beauty preserved. In 1883, the Minneapolis Board of Trade adopted a resolution to establish an independent park commission, with the reasoning that the rapid growth of the city “warns us that the time has come when, if ever, steps should be taken to secure the necessary land for such a grand system of Parks and Boulevards as the natural situation offers.” The resolution was sent as a bill to the State Legislature, which authorized a referendum to be voted upon by the citizens, who overwhelmingly approved it in 1883. One of the first acts of the newly established board, and its president, Charles M. Loring, was to engage the services of two well-known landscape architects of the time, H. W. S. Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmsted. Cleveland had been the head of the country’s oldest park commission, that of Boston. Olmsted was the designer of Central Park in New York City. They both pressed for acquiring parklands well in advance of the existing need. The Board followed their advice, acquiring large areas of land that would have been prohibitively expensive, if even available, in later years. To illustrate, the first thiry acres of Loring Park were purchased in 1883 for $4,904 per acre. In 1902, some additional land by Loring Park was acquired at the cost of $48,096 per acre.Theodore Wirth, superintendent of Parks from 1905 to 1935, was largely responsible for the development and expansion of the park system in its formative years. Wirth dredged the lakes and graded their banks, thereby eliminating the swampy sections as well as the frequent flooding. The park system he built, influenced by Olmsted’s vision, reflects the individuality of the various components contained within. It is no accident that the character and function of Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles differ from one another. Lake Harriet, with its playground and band shell, has a family and group recreation orientation. Lake Calhoun reflects a faster pace as a favorite for iceboating and sailboarding, while Lake of the Isles has a more reflective feel and is frequented by cross-country skiers, roller bladers, and strollers. Today, along the 53-mile parkway system known as the Grand Rounds, are numerous parks and parkways, lakes (22 within the city limits), streams and creeks, the Mississippi River, and the 53-foot high Minnehaha Falls, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his “Song of Hiawatha.” The 6,400-acre park system is designed so that every home in Minneapolis is within six blocks of green space. Furthermore, the park system has been called “the best-located, best-financed, best-designed, best maintained public open space in America.” (Alexander Garvin, The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t, 1996, p. 63)

19th Century Settlement
In the early 1800s, there were individuals who attempted to establish farms in the area that would become Minneapolis, but not until the 1838 treaty with the Dakota was signed did the lands east of the Mississippi River become open. One of the earlier attempts to claim the land was by Franklin Steele in 1838, in the area that would become the village of St. Anthony. It took until 1848 for the lands to be surveyed and offered for sale. Steele did get legal ownership of the land, and he and several partners built the first dam, started a sawmill, and laid out the town site of St. Anthony. Millwright, postmaster, and miller Ard Godfrey built a house in 1849. It still stands, and is the oldest remaining house in the City of Minneapolis (located at Richard Chute Square, at the intersection of Central and University Avenues). The land west of the Mississippi was purchased from the Dakotas in the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and opened for settlement the next year. Colonel John H. Stevens’ house was built in 1850. It was the first permanent settler’s home on the west bank of the Mississippi in what was to become Minneapolis. Some of the early residents in St. Anthony were individuals who had branched out from fur trading like Pierre Bottineau, a son of a French-Canadian fur trader and an Ojibway mother. Other early residents include Emily Grey and her husband Ralph, who were free black people living in Minnesota. They were friends of the anti-slavery leader Frederick Douglass and they were deeply committed to seeking freedom for all slaves. They moved here in 1855 and assisted other Blacks in securing their freedom by working with the state law or helping get individuals to Canada. The first sizable wave of settlers reached Minneapolis in the 1850s and 1860s. They represented town site developers, timber speculators, small businessmen, and organizers of churches and schools, with many coming from the New England states and New York. Influential early settlers include John S. Pillsbury, John H. Stevens, William Cheever, Caleb Dorr, Anson Northrup, and Henrietta Bishop.

Scandinavians began arriving in the United States as early as the mid-1820s. Because of their roots in an agrarian economy, increasing numbers of Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes made their way to the plains and prairies of the Midwest. The first major influx of Scandinavians to Minneapolis occurred in the mid-1860s, influenced by the end of the Civil War and the worsening economic conditions in Norway and Sweden. Two Scandinavians who had visited the area in the 1850s and had promoted the area to their fellow countrymen back home were Frederika Bremer (of Sweden) and Ole Bull (of Norway), a concert violinist. Bull was largely responsible for the formation of a Scandinavian Society, organized in 1869. In 1895 a group of Norwegian immigrants formed the Sons of Norway, a fraternal insurance organization, which continues to this day. Minneapolis was to become one of the primary centers of the Scandinavian press in the United States. Published here were the Minneapolis Tidende, a Norwegian daily and weekly; the Vikingen-Minneapolis, a Danish-Norwegian publication; and the Svenska-Amerikanska Posten, a Swedish weekly (owned by Swan J. Turnblad, who donated his mansion on 26th Street and Park Avenue to the American Swedish Institute in 1929). The Scandinavian influence was also seen in the establishment of their churches, primarily Lutheran, and schools. A chair in Scandinavian languages was formed at the University of Minnesota in 1884. Augsburg College, founded as a Norwegian Lutheran seminary in 1869, was moved in 1871 from Wisconsin to Minneapolis, where it remains today. The largest overall influx of Europeans to the city occurred just before the end of the 19th Century. Many were new to the United States; others were offspring of Scandinavian and German immigrant farmers moving to the city to seek their fortunes. In the 1880s nearly all the cooks and maids in Minneapolis were immigrants. Two-thirds were Scandinavian and the rest German and Irish. Until the 1890s most immigrants to Minnesota were from northern and western European countries. By 1900 many of the newcomers came from countries like Italy, Greece and Poland, and southern or eastern European countries. Minneapolis had about 60,000 foreign-born residents (36.8% of the total population) in 1890. In 1900, Minneapolis had more working women, most of whom were immigrants, living in rented rooms than most other cities in the country.

20th Century Growth and Diversity
By 1930, the Swedes had become the largest foreign-born group in every section of the city except in the heavily eastern European First and Third wards. The Norwegians followed as the second largest group. Danish settlers, the third largest group, originally settled on the west bank of the Mississippi River, under the Washington Avenue Bridge, in an area known as the “Danish Flats.” Other immigrant groups eventually settled there as well. As Slovaks, Poles, French Canadians, Germans, and Irish settled in the area it became known as the “Bohemian Flats.” Depending on proximity to the river, rents ranged from an average of $15 to $25 per year. While the inhabitants were poor, the housing crude, and the landscape inhospitable, the community possessed a strong spirit. It recovered from periodic floods but finally was dismantled in 1931 to make way for municipal coal docks. By 1880, there were 362 Blacks in Minneapolis, and by 1930 the Black population numbered 4,176. The Black community tended to concentrate in two areas–on the near north side of the city and on the south side near Fourth Avenue South and 38th Street. The first African-American Church organized in Minneapolis was the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1863. The Minneapolis Urban League was established in 1925 to assist African-Americans in overcoming obstacles in employment, education, housing, health care and social services. One of its prominent leaders was Gleason Glover, who served the organization from 1967 to 1992. The Minneapolis Spokesman, edited by Cecil E. Newman and focused on the African-American community, began publishing in 1934.

The Jewish community was comprised of German Jews who arrived earliest, followed by Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian Jews, and finally Romanian Jews. These groups tended to settle in one of three areas: the near north side of the city, on the south side between Chicago and Cedar Avenues near Franklin Avenue, and near Lake Calhoun. The City’s first major synagogue, dedicated in 1880, was Shaarai Tov (“Gates of Goodness”), located on Fifth Street between First and Second Avenues South. It later was named Temple Israel and is presently located at 24th Street and Hennepin Avenue. One of its illustrious rabbis was Samuel N. Deinard. Rabbi Deinard worked to unite the various ethnic groups within the Jewish community. He was devoted to social justice beyond the Jewish community as well, and served as the first president of the local chapter of the NAACP. A more recent wave of Russian immigration to Minnesota began in the late 1980s. Since 1987, more than 3,000 Russian-speaking Jews have settled in Minneapolis, constituting 10% of its Jewish population. The City’s Asian residents have come from China, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, and in the past thirty years, from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Minneapolis had the largest Chinese settlement in the state in the early decades of the 20th Century. Westminster Presbyterian Church had Chinese-language services in 1918, and the congregation’s Chinese members started a Chinese language weekly newspaper. The first large scale Japanese-American migration to the state, and to Minneapolis, occurred during World War II as the War Relocation Authority, recognizing the harmful effects of the detention camps, relocated the internees to other parts of the country. From 1942 to 1948, between 6,000 and 10,000 persons of Japanese descent came to the state. Most eventually returned to the West Coast. A national leader who remained in Minnesota was Rev. Daisuke Kitagawa. He was the director of the Japanese American Community Center at 2200 Blaisdell Avenue (established in 1947), and served on the Mayor’s Human Relations Council in the 1940s. Historically, the Mexican-American population of the Twin Cities has largely been concentrated in St. Paul’s West Side. The 1990s saw a burgeoning Latino population in Minneapolis, particularly in the Powderhorn, Phillips, Whittier, Central, and Lyndale neighborhoods. In 1999, a mercado–a retail center comprised of several dozen Hispanic businesses owners and operators–opened on Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue.

Native Americans began returning to the Twin Cities in large numbers during the 1950s, largely the result of the Bureau of Indian Affairs program to relocate reservation Indians to urban areas. Of the major cities in the United States, Minneapolis had the fourth highest percentage of American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut people in the 1990 census (behind Anchorage, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City). The city, however, lost nearly 4,000 Indians to outstate Minnesota in 1990s, perhaps due to the healthy casino economy coupled with the desire to return to the reservation. The American Indian Movement (A.I.M.), which brought Indian issues, sovereignty, and treaty rights to the public’s attention, was founded in Minneapolis in 1968.

Unfortunately, over the course of the city’s history, not all were made to feel welcome. Immigrants often faced job, housing, and racial discrimination. By one estimate, there were as many as 10 active Ku Klux Klan chapters in Minneapolis in 1923. Their attacks were broadly focused on nonwhites, socialists, Jews, Catholics, and the new Communist threat. The Klan popularity quickly lost ground amidst scandals surrounding its leadership based in Indianapolis. Sociologist Carey McWilliams named Minneapolis the most anti-Semitic city in the United States in 1946. Stung by this designation, Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey established the city’s civil rights commission that same year (then known as the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights.) The Commission operated without public funds and exercised no powers save those of education and persuasion. In its first year, the Commission sponsored a training program in race relations for police officers and helped prepare the way for the enactment of a fair employment practice ordinance. Minneapolis later elected a Jewish mayor, Arthur Naftalin, in 1961. The Phyllis Wheatley House was established in 1920 in North Minneapolis as a settlement house where Blacks could reside and enjoy community life. The Rainbow Club, organized by Reverend Daisuke Kitagawa, served to help Japanese American families who were facing racial prejudice settle in the area.

According to the 1990 census, foreign-born residents numbered 6% of the city’s total population. Since 1990, there has been a significant wave of immigration to the city, bringing immigrants, many of whom are refugees from Africa (including a large Somali contingent), Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Today there is an effort among the public and private sectors to offer services for, and combat discrimination against, new arrivals to Minneapolis, building on the city’s social service tradition while striving to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Crow Dog of the Brule Sioux Band, killed Spotted Tail

by Clara NiiSkaIn August 1881, Crow Dog, “belonging to” the Brule Sioux Band, killed Spotted Tail, who signed the treaty of 1868 as the principal Chief of the Brule Sioux. “The killing,” according to court records, “took place at their agency upon the Great Sioux Indian reservation, in the first judicial district of Dakota Territory.” Crow Dog was convicted of murder by the was crazy horse a homosexual?, and sentenced to death.

In November 1883 the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on writs of habeas corpus and certiorari filed on behalf of Crow Dog. In the case Ex Parte Crow Dog, decided December 1883, the Supreme Court reversed the territorial court decision, and ruled that, “the First District Court of Dakota is without jurisdiction to find or try an indictment for murder committed by one Indian upon another in the Indian country, and a conviction and sentence upon such indictment are void, and imprisonment thereon is illegal.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in Ex Parte Crow Dog includes a fine-grained analysis of the jurisdiction of the district courts of the Territory of Dakota, sections of the revised U.S. statutes pertaining to “crimes arising within the maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” the provisions of the treaty of April 29th, 1868 and an agreement with “certain bands of the Sioux Indians, &c.” approved by Congress February 28th, 1877.

The eighth article of the 1877 agreement provided that the signatory Sioux “be subject to the laws of the United States, and each individual shall be protected in his rights of property, person and life.” The Supreme Court decided that the words of that agreement “can have no such effect as that claimed by them”—that the Sioux were subject to U.S. law, “not in the sense of citizens, but … as wards subject to a guardian … as a dependent community who were in a state of pupilage.”

U.S. policy: “annihilation,” “assimilation,” and “tutelage” in “civilization”
In 1871, Congress ended U.S. treaty-making with Indians. United States Indian policy underwent a transformation in the 1870s and early 1880s: from President Grant’s “peace policy”—“Indians who did not go willingly to the reservations would either be driven there by force or exterminated in the process”—to a long-range agenda of “assimilation.” As Senator Dawes, better-known for the General Allotment Act, put it, the “Indian people will not remain as a separate race among us … He is to disappear in the midst of our population, be absorbed in it, and be one of us and fade out of sight as an Indian …”

The assimilationists’ agenda of Christianization and the use of “education” to “kill the Indian … and leave the man and the citizen” was countered by the philosophy expressed by the Supreme Court in Ex Parte Crow Dog: that Indians were “… aliens and strangers … a community separated by race, by tradition, by the instincts of a free though savage life …” During the 1870s, most U.S. Indian reservations remained under military control—Indian agents were often also officers in the U.S. Army. Excerpts from the annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs provide a glimpse of the foundations of present U.S. Indian policy:

1878, Indian police:

By Act of May 27, passed at the last session of Congress, provision was made for the organization at the various agencies of a system of Indian police … Too short a time has elapsed to perfect or thoroughly test the workings of such a system, but the results of the experiment at the thirty agencies in which it has been tried are entirely satisfactory, and commend it as an effective instrument of civilization. … The police organization should be followed up by the adoption of a code of laws for Indians, and peace and good order among them will result.

1879, law for Indian reservations:

In the last three annual reports of this office urgent appeals have been made for the enactment of laws for Indian reservations. The following bill was introduced at the last Congress …

… That the provisions of the laws of the respective States and Territories in which are located Indian reservations, relating to the crimes of murder, manslaughter, arson, rape, burglary and robbery shall be deemed and taken to be the law, and in force within such reservations; and the district courts of the United States … shall have original jurisdiction over all such offenses which may be committed within such reservations. …

It is a matter if vital importance that action should be taken to secure the passage of the above bill, or of some measure of equal efficiency to provide law for Indians, to the end that order may be secured. A civilized community could not exist as such without law, and a semi-civilized and barbarous people are in a hopeless state of anarchy without its protection and sanctions. It is true the various tribes have regulations and customs of their own, which, however, are founded on superstition and ignorance of the usages of civilized communities … To supply their place it is the bounden duty of the government to provide laws suited to the dependent condition of the Indians. … the wonder is that such a code was not enacted years ago.

1880, legislation needed:

… The enactment of suitable laws for Indian reservations. In the annual reports of this office for some years past the necessity for a judicial system or code of laws for the Indians has been specially commented upon …

It is of the utmost importance that some such measure … should be passed, not only in the interest of peace and good order among the Indians, but also as a necessary factor in the work of their civilization. Under the present system, outside of the five civilized tribes, crimes and offenses committed by one Indian against the person and property of another are remitted to tribal laws or customs for punishment. It is time that this relic of barbarism should cease. The Indian should be taught to know and respect the same law which governs the white man, and to recognize the fact that, while he is amenable to the law, he is equally entitled to its protection and privileges.

1881, the enactment of laws for Indian reservations:

Various measures looking to this end have been introduced in Congress, among the latest being House bill No. 350, Forty-sixth Congress, second session … This bill, as well as others of a kindred nature, died a natural death at the close of the last Congress.

I … earnestly hope that Congress will find time to bestow attention upon this important subject. …

1882, laws for Indians:

For years past urgent appeals have been made by this office for such legislation as will insure a proper government of the Indians, by providing that the criminal laws of the United States shall be in force on Indian reservations, and shall apply to all offenses, including those of Indians against Indians; and by extending the jurisdiction of the United States courts to enforce the same; in short to make an Indian as amenable to law as any other subject of the United States.

From time to time various measures looking to this end have been introduced in Congress; but from some cause or other … they have invariably fallen through, so that to-day the only statutes under which Indians are managed and controlled are substantially those created in 1834, known was the trade and intercourse laws. … As civilization advances and the Indian is thrown into contact with white settlers the authority of the chiefs proportionately decreases. It is manifest that some provision of law should be made to supply this deficiency and protect Indians in their individual rights of person and property. At the same time, the Indian should be given to understand that no ancient custom, or tribal regulation, will shield him from just punishment for crime. …

I again respectfully recommend that the attention of Congress be called to the subject, with a view to such legislation as it may deem expedient.

1883, laws for the government of Indians:

In the annual reports of this office for several years past, attention has been invited to the urgent necessity of some suitable code of laws for Indian reservations. Indians in the Indian country are not punishable for crimes or offenses committed against the persons or property of each other. Such offenses are generally left to the penalties of tribal usage … or the offenders are subjected to a few weeks or months arbitrary confinement in an agency guardhouse or military fort.

The Indian is not a citizen of the United States. He cannot sue or be sued under the judiciary act of 1789, and only gets into Federal courts as a civil litigant, in occasional instances, by favor of special law, and in many of the States and Territories he has no standing at all in court. …

No action has been taken by Congress … asking for the enactment of a general statute putting Indians under the restraints and protection of law …

… Congress should confer both civil and criminal jurisdiction on the several States and Territories over all Indian reservations within their respective limits, and make the person and property of he Indian amenable to he laws of the State or Territory in which he may reside … and give him all the rights in the courts enjoyed by other persons. … What is required is a law for the punishment of crimes and offenses among the Indians themselves, one which shall make the Indian equally secure with the white man in his individual rights of person and property, and equally amenable for any violation of the rights of others.

Court of Indian Offenses

On the 10th of April last you [the Secretary of the Interior] gave your official approval to certain rules governing the “court of Indian offenses,” prepared in this office in accordance with instructions contained in your letter of December 2 last. These rules prohibit the sun-dance, scalp-dance and war-dance, polygamy, theft, &c., and provide for the organization at each agency of a tribunal composed of Indians empowered to try all cases of infraction of the rules. … I am of the opinion that the “court of Indian offenses,” with some few modifications, could be placed in successful operation at the various agencies, and thereby many of the barbarous customs now existing among the Indians would be entirely abolished.

There is no good reason why an Indian should be permitted to indulge in practices which are alike repugnant to common decency and morality; and the preservation of good order on the reservations demands that some active measures should be taken to discourage and, if possible, put a stop to the demoralizing influence of heathenish rites …


In his annual Report, 1884, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs once again wrote that, “a law is badly wanted for the punishment of crimes and offenses amongst Indians themselves.” The Commissioner referred to Crow Dog, “at large upon the reservation unpunished,” as illustrative of the “necessity for amendment of the law,” and commented that, “the average Indian may not be ready for the more complex question s of civil law, but he is sufficiently capable to discriminate between right and wrong, and should be taught by the white man’s law to respect the persons and property of his race, and that under the same law he himself is entitled to like protection.”

Despite his apparent pleas for equal protection under the law for Indians, in the same 1884 Report, the Commissioner also extolled the newly-established court of Indian offenses for being “instrumental in abolishing many of he most barbarous and pernicious customs that have existed among the Indians from time immemorial,” specifically including such “heathenish customs” as the sun dance. His report included quotations from the reports of several Indian agents, including at White Earth Agency, Minnesota: “The court here has relieved me of many trying cases … it is only a question of time and it will become a permanent fixture and recognized as the only way to settle the little differences” among Indians. He also recommended a Congressional appropriation of $50,000 to pay the salaries of Indian court judges and “other necessary expenses,” and urged that, “it would be a matter of economy to the Government in saving the expense heretofore incurred of suppressing crimes which are now included in the jurisdiction of the court of Indian offenses.”


U.S. Congress enacted the precursor to the Indian Major Crimes Act as the ninth section of the Indian Appropriations Act of March 3, 1885. That act “gave” U.S. courts jurisdiction over the Indians accused of the crimes of murder, manslaughter, rape, assault with intent to kill, arson, burglary, and larceny. In his 1885 Report, the Commissioner described the legislation as a “step in the right direction,” and once again expressed the notion that “Indians should eventually become subject to and enjoy the protection of all laws in the same manner and to the same extent as other persons.”

(Congress’ assertion of federal jurisdiction was upheld the following year by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case United States v. Kagama, involving a murder on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in California. The grounds upon which the Supreme Court affirmed federal jurisdiction rested on the notion of Indian “pupilage,” and, as the Court wrote: “The power of the General Government of these remnants of a race once powerful, now weak and diminished in numbers, is necessary to their protection, as well as to the safety of those among whom they dwell. It must exist in that government, because it has never existed anywhere else … because it has never been denied, and because it alone can enforce its laws on all tribes.”)

The Commissioner also addressed the court of Indian offenses in his 1885 Report, writing: “Under the date of April 10, 1883, the then Secretary of the Interior gave his official approval to certain rules prepared in this office for the establishment of a court of Indian offenses at each of the Indian agencies … It was found that the longer continuance of certain old heathen and barbarous customs, such as the sun-dance, scalp-dance, war-dance, polygamy, &c., were operating as a serious hindrance to the efforts of the Government for the civilization of the Indians. …

“There is no special law authorizing the establishment of such a court, but authority is exercised under the general provisions of the law giving this Department supervision of the Indians. The policy of the Government for many years past has been to destroy the tribal relations as fast as possible, and to use every endeavor to bring the Indians under the influence of law. To do this the agents have been accustomed to punish for minor offenses, by imprisonment in the guard-house and by withholding rations, but under the present system the Indians themselves, through their judges, decide who are guilty of offenses under the rules, and pass judgment in accordance with the provision thereof. Neither the section in the last Indian appropriation bill [granting federal jurisdiction over major crimes] … nor any other enactment of Congress reaches any of the crimes or offenses provided for in the Department rules, and without such a court many Indian reservations would be without law or order, and the laws of civilized life would be utterly disregarded.

“At each agency, where it has been found practicable to establish it, the reports of the Indian agents show that the court has been entirely successful, and in many cases eminently useful in abolishing the old heathenish customs that have been for many years resorted to, by the worst elements on the reservation, to retard the progress and advancement of the Indians to a higher standard of civilization and education. …”


“Indian courts”: a brief history
(continued from above)by Clara NiiSka

In the above article, Press/ON published excerpts from the Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1878 to 1885. During those years, the Commissioner repeatedly wrote of the “urgent” need for the “enactment of laws for Indian reservations.” He urged that state and territorial criminal and civil jurisdiction be extended over Indian reservations, and he advocated that Congress enact laws which would “make the Indian equally secure with the white man in his individual rights of person and property, and equally amenable for any violation of the rights of others.”

On April 10, 1883, the Secretary of the Interior “gave his approval” to rules governing what the Indian Commissioner called a “court of Indian offenses.” In his Annual Report, the Commissioner made repeated pleas that Congress enact legislation extending equal protection under the law to Indians. Despite his rhetoric, the rules for courts of Indian offenses that the Commissioner’s office actually provided to the Secretary on December 2, 1882 were specifically intended to repress religious practices—the Commissioner termed them “heathenish rites”—and to “destroy the tribal relations as fast as possible.”

In the case Ex Parte Crow Dog, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in December 1883, the Court ruled that despite explicit extension of U.S. jurisdiction over “certain bands of Sioux Indians” in 1877, they were subject to U.S. law not as citizens entitled to equal protection under the law and the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but as “wards subject to a guardian … as a dependent community who were in a state of pupilage.” The Supreme Court ruled that Crow Dog’s actions in killing Spotted Tail remained under tribal jurisdiction.

The Office of Indian Affairs used the Crow Dog case, and the fact that Crow Dog was “at large upon the reservation unpunished” by U.S. law, to lobby for laws extending U.S. criminal jurisdiction over Indians. In 1885, the U.S. Congress passed the predecessor to the Indian Major Crimes Act, which the Commissioner of Indian Affairs praised as a “step in the right direction.”

The Commissioner also continued to press for extension of U.S. civil jurisdiction over Indians, as well as for Congressional legalization of their “court of Indian offenses.” At the same time, he lauded the Indian court, established without legal authority other than the general authority of the Department of the Interior, and extolled its ‘civilizing’ effectiveness in abolishing “certain old heath and barbarous customs, such as the sun-dance …”

Commissioner of Indian Affairs,

Annual Report, 1886:

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote in his 1886 Report that the courts of Indian offenses were, “… unquestionably a great assistance to the Indians in learning habits of self-government and in preparing themselves for citizenship. I am of the opinion that they should be placed upon a legal basis by an act of Congress authorizing their establishment, under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of the Interior may prescribe. Their duties and jurisdiction could then be definitely determined and greater good accomplished …”

Annual Report, 1888:

In his 1888 Report, the Commissioner once again urged that, “the jurisdiction of these courts [of Indian offenses] be defined by law.” He enumerated the “offenses” over which the Secretary of Interior had asserted jurisdiction: “the sun-dance, the scalp-dance, the war-dance (and all other so-called feasts assimilating thereto); plural marriages; the practice of the medicine man; the destruction or theft of property; the payment or offer to pay money or other valuable thing to the friends or relatives of any Indian girl or woman, are declared to be Indian offenses, punishable by withholding of rations, fine, imprisonment, hard work, and in the case of a white man, removal from the reservation.”

According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the jurisdiction of his courts of Indian offenses also included: “misdemeanors committed by Indians; civil suits when Indians are parties thereto; cases of intoxication; and violations of the liquor regulations. There civil jurisdiction is declared to be the same as that of justices of the peace … If these rules, amended in several essential particulars, were enacted into law, the usefulness of the courts of Indian offenses would thereby be greatly increased, and under the authority exercised by these courts the Indian would be compelled either to obey the law or suffer its penalties …”

The Commissioner explained that legislation authorizing the courts of Indian offenses “would supplement” the jurisdiction asserted by the “Indian Crimes Act” of 1885. He cited the Supreme Court case United States v. Kagama and Another, Indians as providing that the Indian Crimes Act “is valid and constitutional” based on the “state of semi-independence and pupilage” which the United States government had “heretofore recognized in the Indian tribes …”

U.S. v. Clapox, 1888

Six years after the federal bureaucracy asserted jurisdiction over Indians through its establishment of courts of Indian offenses, the federal district court of Oregon affirmed the legality of those courts in its adjudication of the case United States v. Clapox, et al. The case began with the arrest, by Indian police, of Minnie, “an Indian woman.” Minnie was jailed “for the offense of living and cohabiting” with an Indian other than her husband. Prior to any trial, Minnie was rescued and “set at liberty” by the defendants in U.S. v. Clapox, also Indians. Her rescuers were charged with the federal crime of “rescue”—“forcibly setting a person at liberty who has committed for ‘a crime against the United States’.”

The Oregon district court determined that despite the fact that there were no written records kept by the court of Indian offenses, that adultery was not even a misdemeanor at common law, and that there was no federal statute regulating consensual sexual conduct between adult Indians, Minnie was, nonetheless, charged with a “crime against the United States.” The remarkable legal reasoning in U.S. v. Clapox rests, in part, on article 8 of the Indian treaty made at Camp Stevens on June 9, 1855, in which the “Walla-Wallas, Cayuses and Umatilla tribes, and bands” of Indians, “acknowledge their dependence on the government of the United States … and engage to submit to and observe all laws, rules and regulations which may be prescribed by the United States for the government of said Indians.”

The Oregon district court acknowledged that, “These ‘courts of Indian offenses’ are not the constitutional courts provided for in section 1, art. 3, Const., which congress only has the power to ‘ordain and establish,’ but mere educational and disciplinary instrumentalities, by which the government of the United States is endeavoring to improve and elevate the condition of these dependent tribes to whom it sustains the relation of guardian. In fact, the reservation itself is in the nature of a school, and the Indians are gathered there, under the charge of an agent, for the purpose of acquiring the habits, ideas, and aspirations which distinguish the civilized from the uncivilized man.” The curriculum established by the U.S. included punishment for certain “‘Indian offenses,’ such as the ‘sun,’ the ‘scalp,’ and the ‘war dance,’ polygamy, ‘the usual practices of so-called ‘medicine men’,’ … and buying or selling Indian women for the purpose of cohabitation.”

In some remarkable legal reasoning invoking English ecclesiastical law and the “conduct peculiar to the Indian in his savage state,” the Oregon district court ruled that although adultery was not specifically prohibited by the rules of the court of Indian offenses, “it is altogether in keeping with the general purpose and spirit of these rules that adultery should be prohibited and punished by them.” The United States, “by virtue of its power and authority in the premises, had established a rule,” which Minnie was allegedly accused of violating. She was “therefore committed for a crime against the law-maker,—the United States.” Thus, continued the Oregon court, her rescuers were, “in flagrant opposition to the authority of the United States on this reservation, and directly subversive of this laudable effort to accustom and educate these Indians in the habit and knowledge of self-government.”

Nearly a century later, in a November 12, 1985 memorandum to B.I.A. Area Directors and addressing issues involving Courts of Indian Offenses, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Hazel Elbert explained that “Courts of Indian offenses are created by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with his general authority … and operate pursuant to 25 C.F.R. [Title 25, Code of Federal Regulations], part 11. The authority of the Secretary to promulgate regulations with respect to courts of Indian offenses was recognized in U.S. v. Clapox. Courts of Indian offenses are federal instrumentalities …” [The entire memorandum was published in Press/ON June 8, 2001.]

CLICK FOR PIC 1CLICK FOR PIC 21972 legal review—the foundation of courts of Indian offenses
In his September 1972 article in the North Dakota Law Review, “Tribal injustice: the Red Lake court of Indian offenses,” Press/ON publisher William J. Lawrence chronicled the United States’ establishment of courts of Indian offenses, and examined the Indian court at Red Lake.

Lawrence observed that, “the Indian police systems were organized in 1878, and not until 1883 did the federal government see fit to establish the court system, and not until 1888 did Congress see fit to appropriate any money to finance the courts. It would seem that the federal government since the early days of the Indian service has been police-oriented, and that the courts, which are the heart of any system of justice, have been low in the order of priorities …”

Lawrence scrutinized the courts of Indian offenses’ shaky legal foundation, resting on U.S. v. Clapox—“mere educational and disciplinary instrumentalities” deriving their authority from U.S. ‘guardianship.’ He noted that another “defense of their legality” is the doctrine, espoused in 1934, that courts of Indian offenses “derive their authority from the tribe rather than from Washington.” Lawrence adds, “whichever of these explanations is offered for the existence of the courts of Indian offenses, their establishment cannot be held to have destroyed or limited the powers” vested in the people.

The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act
The year in which tribal authority—rather than the authority of the U.S. government—was held to legitimate Indian courts is significant: 1934. Following years of lobbying by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, led by “reformer” and Indian Commissioner John Collier, the U.S. Congress enacted the Indian reorganization Act (I.R.A.) in 1934.

In legislation codified as Title 25, Section 476 of the U.S. Code, the U.S. Congress passed a law providing for “the Organization of Indian tribes; constitution and by-laws and amendment thereof.” The I.R.A. details the processes by which an “Indian tribe” may be “organized” under U.S. Law; paragraph (d) requires that the U.S. Secretary of the Interior approve the constitutions of tribes organized under the I.R.A. The I.R.A. also mandates that such Indian tribal constitutions not be contrary to “applicable laws.”

The I.R.A. also delineates the powers of the “Indian tribe or tribal council”: in addition to all powers “vested in any Indian tribe or tribal council by existing law, the constitution adopted by said tribe shall also vest in such tribe or its tribal council the following rights and powers: To employ legal counsel; to prevent the sale, disposition, lease, or encumbrance of tribal lands, interests in lands, or other tribal assets without the consent of the tribe; and to negotiate with the Federal, State, and local governments.” The I.R.A. does not legitimate Courts of Indian offenses, nor does it enumerate the establishment of Indian tribal courts as among the powers of an “Indian tribe or tribal council.”

Legal challenges to Indian courts
Iron Crow v. Oglala Sioux Tribe, 1956
The authority of Indian tribal courts was challenged in 1956 in case involving adultery: Iron Crow v. Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge Reservation, heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit. In that case, Marie Little Finger and David Black Cat were tried and convicted in the Oglala Sioux Tribal court of the crime of adultery, under the Revised Code of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The Tribal Court exercised jurisdiction on the grounds that both Little Finger and Black Cat were enrolled members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and that their tryst took place on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Little Finger and Black Cat filed for an injunction in federal court, on the grounds that the Tribal Court did not have the jurisdiction to try and convict them, and that enforcement of the sentences of the Tribal Court was in violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. appellate court found that Tribal Courts are not provided for in either the U.S. Constitution, nor have they been “authorized by federal legislative action.” However, the federal court ruled that since Congress had provided for “pay and other expenses of judges of Indian courts” and Indian police, Congress “recognized” the authority of Indian tribal courts, and that those courts had “inherent” jurisdiction.

Little Finger and Black Cat argued that their rights were protected “as citizens of the United States.” Drawing on legal cases decided before passage of the Act of June 2, 1924 extended citizenship to all Indians “born within the territorial limits of the United States,” the federal court ruled that the Oglala Sioux defendants did not attain the rights guaranteed to other citizens by virtue of their U.S. citizenship. The caselaw quoted by the Eighth Circuit Court included the 1916 case, U.S. v. Nice: “Of course, when Indians are prepared to exercise the privileges and bear the burdens of one sui juris, the tribal relation may be dissolved and the national guardianship brought to an end, but it rests with Congress to determine when and how this shall be done, and whether the emancipation shall be complete or only partial…”

The federal court also quoted from the case Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, “It is thoroughly established that Congress has plenary authority over Indians …” and held that, “the granting of citizenship in itself did not destroy … jurisdiction of the Indian tribal courts and that there was no intention on the part of Congress to do so.”

Colliflower v. Garland, 1965
In 1963 Madeline Colliflower, a member of the Gros Ventre Indian Tribe, Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation, was charged by the Ft. Belknap court of Indian offenses with “disobedience to the lawful orders of the Court.” Mrs. Colliflower pled not guilty to the charges; the Indian judge “found her guilty and sentenced her to a fine of $25 or five days in jail. Mrs. Colliflower … elected to take the jail sentence because she could not pay the fine.”

Based on the due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, Mrs. Colliflower then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming “that her confinement is illegal and in violation of her constitutional rights, because she was not afforded the right to counsel, was not afforded any trial, was not confronted by any witnesses against her, and because the action of the court was taken summarily and arbitrarily, and without just cause.” The district court decided that it did not have the jurisdiction to issue a writ of habeas corpus for an Indian who was committed by a tribal court. Mrs. Colliflower appealed; the federal appellate court ruled on the jurisdictional issue but did not rule on the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

In its opinion in the case Colliflower v. Garland, the U.S. Court of Appeals noted that Iron Crow v. Oglala Sioux Tribe “did not touch upon the question of whether the Constitution applies to the procedure of Indian courts,” merely ruled that the Indian court had jurisdiction. The federal court continued, “In spite of the theory that for some purposes an Indian tribe is an independent sovereignty, we think that, in light of their history, it is pure fiction to say that the Indian courts functioning in the Fort Belknap Indian community are not in part, at least, arms of the federal government. Originally they were created by federal executive and imposed upon the Indian community, and to this day the federal government still maintains a partial control over them. … Under these circumstances, we think that these courts function in part as a federal agency and in part as a tribal agency, and that consequently it is competent for a federal court in a habeas corpus proceeding to inquire into the legality of the detention of an Indian pursuant to an order of an Indian court.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, however, muted its decision that a U.S. citizen who was also an Indian had the legal right to file a writ of habeas corpus in federal court by writing, “We confine our decision to the courts of the Fort Belknap reservation.” The federal court also limited the impact of its decision with the caveat that, “it does not follow from our decision that the tribal court must comply with every constitutional restriction that is applicable to federal or state courts …”

Federal funding
Overall, the BIA budgeted more than $128 million for “tribal courts” during the year 2001. In the Bureau’s narrative for its 2001 budget justifications, the BIA describes the tribal courts as enabling “Tribes to exercise their rights as sovereign nations by establishing and maintaining their own civil and criminal codes in accordance with local Tribal customs and traditions. … The program also supports the Bureau’s goal to foster strong and stable Tribal governments so they can exercise their authority as sovereign nations.” The BIA makes no mention of the dubious legal basis for these courts, nor of the fundamental civil rights and due process guaranteed to all U.S. citizens under the U.S. Constitution. …


A chronicle of civil rights violations. And, the U.S. Court of Appeals rules on a court of Indian offenses in a case involving non-Indians: “an Indian tribe may not assert sovereign immunity against the United States.”


“Indian courts”: a brief history
quasi-legal courts at Red Lake by Clara NiiSka

In the above article, Press/ON reprinted brief excerpts from the Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1886 and 1888. The “courts of Indian offenses” were formally proposed in late 1882 by the Indian Commissioner, and established with the “approval” of the Secretary of the Interior on April 10, 1883.

The late 1800s were an era when political leaders like Senator Dawes—also chief author of the General Allotment Act—exhorted other policy-makers that “the Indian … is to disappear.” At that time, the main debate was whether “the vanishing Americans” were to be completely annihilated, or merely “civilized.” The Interior Department’s establishment of “courts of Indian offenses” deliberately intended to “destroy the tribal relations as fast as possible” as well as to repress religion and culture, does not seem to have raised much public concern.

In 1886, three years after the Indian courts had been created by the federal bureaucracy, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was still urging that “they should be placed upon a legal basis by an act of Congress authorizing their establishment.” Despite its claims to “plenary authority” over Indians, the U.S. Congress has never seen fit to legalize the courts of Indian offenses. After 118 years, these “Indian courts” remain “educational and disciplinary instrumentalities” operating under the “general authority” of the Secretary of the Interior.

Indian tribal governments were transformed by the Indian Reorganization Act (I.R.A.) in 1934. Tribal Constitutions which “contain all the requirements of an IRA-document” specifically limit “Indian tribal government” by mandating that most acts of such Indian governments be approved by “the Secretary of the Interior or his authorized representative.” The I.R.A. also provides that tribal organization chartered under the I.R.A “shall not be revoked or surrendered except by Act of Congress” (25 § 477). With its control over “Indian tribal governments” thus thoroughly entrenched, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and his Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.) began claiming that the courts of Indian offenses and other “Indian courts” were founded on “tribal authority” rather than that of the Secretary of the Interior.

The B.I.A.’s notion that the courts of Indian offenses established by the U.S. government are somehow really “tribal” has been entrenched over the past seventy years. The B.I.A.’s fiscal year 2001 budget request to Congress included more than $145 million dollars for Indian courts. The B.I.A. explained its quasi-legal federal instrumentalities—originally established to destroy indigenous society—as “more than 250 Tribal justice systems and Courts of Indian Offenses” which “enable … Tribes to exercise their rights as sovereign nations.” Is this a “shell game” to divert responsibility, confuse Congress, and absolve the U.S. government of blame?

In Minnesota, 1884:

Based on the general authority asserted by the Secretary of the Interior, courts of Indian offenses were established in Minnesota in 1884. Minnesota Indian Agent C.P. Luse described these courts of Indian offenses in his 1884 report: “While I have selected three good men as judges of the court of Indian offenses for [White Earth reservation], I have not been able to find suitable persons both at Red Lake and Leech Lake to be competent judges.” Despite its lack of competent judges, Agent Luse described the Red Lake Indian court as having, “relieved me of many a trying case.” Luse prophesied that, “it is only a question of time and [the Court of Indian offenses] will become a permanent fixture and recognized as the only way to settle the little differences among them. If these judges could be paid a reasonable salary for their time and services, there would not be any doubt of the continued good results from this court.”

Six years later, in his 1890 Report, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs noted that the “reservation tribunals known as ‘courts of Indian offenses’ have been placed upon a quasi-legal basis by an appropriation made by Congress for the pay of the judges of such courts.” That same year B.P. Schuler, U.S. Indian Agent in Minnesota, wrote that there were three judges at the court of Indian offenses at the White Earth Agency (which also supervised Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, and several other places no longer distinguished as Indian reservations). The White Earth judges—Joseph Charette, William V. Warren, and John G. Morrison—Schuler continued, “speak English fluently and intelligently and wear citizens’ dress. … The general influence of the court … is good … This court should be regularly established and the judges compensated for their labor.”

U.S. jurisdiction over “Indians”
The reality of jurisdiction—which court has authority over whom [personal jurisdiction] under what circumstances [subject matter jurisdiction]—at Red Lake is fairly complicated in actual practice. The U.S. and the State of Minnesota have asserted jurisdiction piecemeal and by increments on Indian reservations, and legal writers have described the consequences as a “morass” and “dolefully” inconsistent. The details of how this was done are interesting history chronicled in state and federal case-law.

The jurisdictional cases specific to Red Lake begin with U.S. v. 43 Gallons of Whiskey—which went to the U.S. Supreme Court twice, in 1876 and again in 1883. The whiskey, belonging to white men Bernard Lariviere and Clovis Guerin, was seized in the village of Crookston on Feb. 12, 1872. Lariviere, who was a licensed “retail liquor dealer,” argued that he and the whiskey were under State jurisdiction, in Polk County, Minnesota. The United States’ position that federal law pertaining to “Indian country” had jurisdiction over Lariviere and his whiskey prevailed. U.S. v. 43 Gallons of Whiskey was still being cited as a precedent in 1933.

The philosophy underlying both U.S. and Minnesota law had been spelled out in 1823 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Marshall in the case Johnson v. M’Intosh: “the different nations of Europe … asserted the ultimate dominion to be in themselves.” U.S. claims to hegemony were reaffirmed by Marshall in the U.S. Supreme Court case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia eight years later: “we assert a title independent of their will.”

U.S. jurisdiction and Red Lake
At Red Lake, the United States’ specific claims to jurisdiction rest on cession of land outside of the boundaries of the present-day “diminished reservation”: under the treaty of October 2, 1863 (amended April 21, 1864 and proclaimed April 25, 1864); and pursuant to the Act of January 14, 1889, Chap. 24, “An act for the relief and civilization of the Chippewa Indians in the State of Minnesota” (the “Nelson Act”).

In the table “Indian reservations, areas and how established,” published in the Indian Commissioner’s Annual Report in 1893, the B.I.A. also listed U.S. President Harrison’s Executive Order of March 4, 1890, which “restored” seven sections and partial sections—the Ponemah cut-off—which were “cut off” the diminished reservation after a survey to “establish” the boundaries of the Red Lake land ceded by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe under the provisions of the 1889 Nelson Act. Red Lake reservation was “diminished” again pursuant to the U.S. Congress’ Act of February 20, 1904.

Underlying U.S. v. Clapox—the appellate case cited as legitimizing courts of Indian offenses—is a specific cession of jurisdiction: Article 8 of the Indian treaty of 1855 between the “confederated bands” in Oregon and the United States. At Red Lake there has been no such direct ceding of jurisdiction, and the Secretary of the Interior’s authority to establish a court of Indian offenses rests directly on the “ultimate dominion” asserted by the U.S. and its European predecessors.

Red Lake Agency Court of Indian Offenses, 1906 – 1935
The B.I.A. operated its Red Lake court of Indian offenses as a part of the White Earth Indian Agency until 1906, when it established a separate Indian agency at Red Lake and stationed a full-time Indian agent there. After 1906, “local members of the tribe were utilized as judges,” but the Indian court continued to operate under the B.I.A.’s nineteenth-century “revised regulations” until new departmental regulations were approved by the Secretary of the Interior on November 27, 1935.

In 1918, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians was formally organized under a written constitution: that of the General Council, generally known as “Peter Graves’ council.” The governmental powers delineated by the 1918 constitution did not include the establishment of a court. In fact, the 1918 constitution grants only extremely limited governmental power to the General Council: conferring authority on the “several Chiefs” to “call a meeting,” deciding in “disputes as to Chiefs,” respecting and giving “proper consideration” to petitions “placed before them by any member of the Red Lake Band,” expending and accounting for funds—and very little else. The B.I.A. continued to operate the Red Lake court of Indian offenses under the general authority of the Secretary of the Interior.

1934 I.R.A.

The Indian Reorganization Act, enacted by the U.S. Congress on June 18, 1934, has often been held to validate the court of Indian offenses. The legislation enacted by Congress does not, however, include any language which could reasonably be construed to establish or validate either courts of Indian offenses or Indian tribal courts.

The Secretary of the Interior prescribed new regulations governing courts of Indian offenses on November 27, 1935, but these continued to rest on the Secretary’s “general authority,” rather than on either congressional legislation or the U.S. Constitution. It is unclear whether Congress’ silence derives from silent acquiescence to the abuses in tribal courts, an absence of Congress’ express delegation of authority, or Congressional avoidance of politically-controversial issues.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians did not adopt a constitution conforming to the requirements of the 1934 I.R.A. until 1958, and the degree to which the Indian Reorganization Act applied to Red Lake prior to 1958 is disputed. In any event, the B.I.A. continued to operate the Red Lake court of Indian offenses under the general authority of the Secretary of the Interior.

1952: Red Lake “Law and Order Provisions”

In 1952, seventy years after the courts of Indian offenses were established by the B.I.A, written “Law and Order Provisions” were finally adopted by the “Red Lake Tribe,” and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. These “provisions” included some now-picturesque sections, including § 72, which barred “any employable Indian” from “wander[ing] about in idleness … without any attempt to obtain regular employment.” Several sections of the 1952 provisions would have been—obviously—of dubious legality under the U.S. constitution, if Indians were meant to be protected by the fundamental civil rights guarantees of that constitution as it applies to non-Indians.

Peter Grave’s General Council at Red Lake was disestablished in 1958. After a hiatus of several months, a constitution which contained “all the requirements of an IRA-document” was approved by the Constitution Committee, adopted by the Red Lake Band, and—as required by Sec. 16 of the I.R.A.—approved by the Secretary of the Interior. The 1958 constitution established the Tribal Council of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.

Neither the 1958 Red Lake constitution, nor the Constitution of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (approved March 3, 1964), provides for the establishment of tribal courts—or for the legalization of the courts of Indian offenses. The B.I.A. continued to operate its Red Lake court of Indian offenses at Red Lake under the general authority of the Secretary of the Interior.

1972: “Tribal Injustice” and the “kangaroo court”
In the summer of 1972, the North Dakota Law Review published an article by William J. Lawrence, “Tribal Injustice: the Red Lake Court of Indian Offenses,” detailing some of the legal, jurisdictional and procedural problems adhering to the Red Lake court. Lawrence described a “jurisdictional morass” at Red Lake. He also wrote about the parameters of jurisdiction at Red Lake: delineated by “race” and geography as well as by type of case. “Race” has been supplanted by “tribal enrollment,” but courts of Indian offenses remain apartheid under present-day Department of the Interior regulations.

Lawrence, in the carefully-documented and dry language of law review articles, described the Red Lake Indian court: “in practice [it] … is ineffective in enforcing its judgments and … most band members receive little or no satisfaction in bringing civil cases before the court.” He also touched on the problems of “tribal politics” affecting the outcome of cases before the Red Lake court of Indian offenses. “Obviously,” he wrote, “a judge whose tenure is based on tribal politics tends to be extremely insecure and far from independent.” He added, “it is an unusual case at Red Lake where the agency superintendent or the tribal politicians do not make their views known to the court.”

In his law review article, Lawrence also discussed other problems with the Red Lake court of Indian offenses, including that, “the greatest shortcoming and most basic criticism of the court is its nearly total disregard for due process for law. The court is notorious for giving improper notice. There have been numerous cases in which judges have failed to allow parties to present testimony and evidence in their behalf. … It is this type of proceeding which has … prompted many [both Indian and non-Indian] to refer to it as a ‘Kangaroo Court’.”

May 1979: “Revolution” at Red Lake
In February 1979, tribal council chairman Roger Jourdain led the Red Lake tribal council’s censure of their treasurer Stephanie Hanson. Jourdain was upset that she had “requested a legal opinion from the United States Department of the Interior Field Solicitor’s office … regarding a proposed, but not adopted, resolution” concerning chairman Jourdain’s business account. Jourdain’s subsequent “firing” the treasurer inflamed longstanding dissatisfaction at Red Lake. What a federal court subsequently called a “revolt” erupted on May 19, 1979.

According to court records, “at approximately 4:45 a.m. on the morning of May 19 … armed men, led by tribal member Harry Hanson, entered the Red Lake Law Enforcement Center (“LEC”) and took over the building.” The prisoners were released, and “two of the BIA officers, a police dispatcher, and two BIA jailers” were taken hostage, “locking them in one of their own jail cells.” The LEC was among the buildings subsequently burned.

The Red Lake tribal council sued the U.S. government for damages allegedly arising from “the defendant’s employees negligent unilateral withdrawal of law enforcement personnel from the Red Lake Reservation in the middle of an insurrection.” In addition, the “plaintiffs charged that the F.B.I. and the B.I.A. had negligently failed to make adequate plans prior to the uprising of May 19 despite warnings that something might happen.” The U.S. government moved to dismiss the suit on the “ground that the allegedly negligent activities were based upon the performance of a discretionary function and were thus exempt from liability under a statutory exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a).”

Roger Jourdain and his cohorts were awarded damages totaling $849,562.62 by the U.S. district court. In 1991, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s judgment, concluding that the “damages were not proximately caused by the [U.S.] government’s negligence.” The United States did not address the underlying issues, including the persistent lack of any viable legal process through which the people at Red Lake could have addressed the problems that festered and eventually erupted into revolt at Red Lake.

May 1982: the Red Lake CFR Court
Three years after the “revolution,” in the May 21, 1982 issue of the Federal Reporter, the B.I.A. published notice of its “update” of the listing of the courts of Indian offenses in title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations, “by adding the Red Lake Court of Indian Offenses to the list. This amendment is necessary to reflect the true status of the Red Lake court which was inadvertently omitted from the listing when it was first published in the Federal Register in 1978. This amendment will effectively update the listing and eliminate the confusion concerning the status of the Red Lake Court of Indian Offenses.”

The most recent Code of Federal Regulations, §11.100, continues to identify the “Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians (Minnesota)” as a “Court of Indian Offenses”—Red Lake is the first on the list.

“ … Islands of Injustice”

On January 5, 6, and 7 of 1986, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a series of articles entitled “Indian Courts, Islands of Injustice.” Star Tribune staffwriters Sharon Schmickle and Roger Buoen began researching the series of articles several months prior to publication. After unsuccessfully attempting to obtain access to Red Lake court of Indian offenses records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Star Tribune and Sharon Schmickle sued the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Red Lake Agency and several individuals including Red Lake Indian court judge George Sumner, “seeking to access certain files of the Red Lake Court of Indian offenses. On the same [August 1985] date,” according to U.S. district court records, “the files at issue were removed from federal custody by order of the Red Lake Tribal Council.” The Department of the Interior undertook “certain efforts to effect the return of these documents, but has not yet succeeded …”

Litigation arising from the Star Tribune’s FOIA request for Red Lake Indian court records went into the appellate courts. At an October 17, 1985 hearing, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota “requested” that the Department of the Interior “take further action” in ‘effecting’ the Red Lake Tribal Council’s return of the court records to federal custody, and that the Department “supply the court with a status report of its efforts.” On November 18, 1985, the Department submitted its status report—and shortly thereafter sought a protective order limiting disclosure of the contents of that report. The U.S. District Court denied the motion for that protective order.

November 1985: “It has come to our attention …”

Thirteen years after the North Dakota Law Review article was published—and five days before its report to the U.S. District Court regarding the Red Lake Indian court records was due to be released to plaintiffs Star Tribune and Schmickle—the Department of the Interior noticed that there were problems with the courts of Indian offenses. In a November 12, 1985 memorandum (reprinted in the June 8, 2001 issue of Press/ON), the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Hazel Elbert, informed “All Area Directors” that: “It has come to our attention that courts of Indian offenses may be violating mandates set forth in the Constitution of the United States.”

Elbert explained that, “courts of Indian offenses are federal instrumentalities that are required to comply with federal statutes as well as the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, you are directed to take immediate steps to have reviewed the conduct and responsibility of court personnel and their operations to ensure violations are not occurring and will not occur in the courts of Indian offenses under your administrative responsibilities …”

Eleven days later, Red Lake Tribal Council Chairman Roger Jourdain responded with a memorandum to the B.I.A. demanding withdrawal of “the Hazel Elbert memorandum.” He described enforcement of the memo as “a crime against the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians,” and indicated that he would “order the removal of all individuals who enforce said memorandum” in the Red Lake court of Indian offenses.

About a month later, on December 27, 1985, B.I.A. Area Director Earl Barlow advised Jourdain that he could not disregard the directives in Elbert’s memorandum. Barlow then shifted the center of the dispute by informing Jourdain that private attorney Richard Meshbesher intended to appear on behalf of clients at the Red Lake court. Jourdain ordered Meshbesher removed. Barlow instructed the Red Lake B.I.A. superintendent to ignore the order, and in a January 10, 1986 letter to the Department of the Interior, argued that the tribal council’s criteria for licensing attorneys to practice before the court of Indian offenses were “so restrictive that it is a virtual certainty that no professional attorney could qualify for admission to practice. Imposition of those criteria would have the effect of denying the right to counsel …” Despite Barlow’s support, Meshbesher ended up bringing a habeas corpus petition in federal court in the case Anderson v. Schoenborne, alleging denials of the right to counsel, the right to a jury trial and the right to a speedy trial.

January 1986: “… Islands of Injustice”
The Star Tribune went to press with Schmickle and Buon’s series, “Indian Courts, Islands of Injustice,” in January 1986. The series included a section on the problems at Red Lake, and the concluding article included the observation that: “Civil rights abuses are occurring virtually unchecked on many of the nation’s reservations with Indian courts. … Why isn’t the federal government, which spends more than $8 million a year to finance courts for about 150 reservations, doing something to curb the abuses?”

Eight months after the Star Tribune went to press with its series, in August 1987, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on the Department of the Interior’s suit against the Red Lake Band and Red Lake Tribal Council, seeking return of the Red Lake Indian court records. The U.S. appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling that “tribal court records were agency records belonging to the B.I.A. and the Department of the Interior, and that removal of these records violated the federal records act.”

November 1987: Roger’s Contract Court
The B.I.A.’s response to public concern about civil rights violations at the Red Lake court of Indian offenses, and to the sharp criticism of the Red Lake court in the federal district court case Cook v. Moran, was to sign a P.L. 93-638 contract with the Red Lake Tribal Council. Under that contract, Roger Jourdain’s council was to administer the Red Lake court of Indian offenses on behalf of the B.I.A.

U.S. Attorney Jerome G. Arnold, Interior Department attorney Mark A. Anderson, and B.I.A. solicitor C. Hughes expressed concern about the proposed court administration contract in April 1987: “Given the past record of the Red Lake Tribe, it is unlikely that it will operate the court in compliance with the Indian Civil Rights Act unless compelled to do so. We recommend that the problem be addressed at the outset by insisting on specific language in the contract, rather than waiting until individual Indians seek to hold us accountable for the foreseeable actions of the tribal court.”

Official concerns about the advisability of the B.I.A.’s hiring the Red Lake tribal council to administer the Red Lake court of Indian offenses went “to the top”—and were dismissed by Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ross Swimmer. At a December 23, 1987 hearing in Washington, D.C., Swimmer explained the rationale for not requiring the Tribal Council comply with federal law in administering the Indian court. “… no one living on a reservation today … has to live there,” Swimmer said. “There is no law that says anyone must live under the constraints of the Red Lake Tribal Council. They are free to move about anyplace in this country, and once they leave the jurisdiction of that tribe, they have no more responsibility to it nor the tribe to them, in most cases” [emphasis added].

In a July 12, 1988 interview—extensive transcripts were published by The Ojibwe News—Swimmer amplified his position with respect to the B.I.A.’s P.L. 93-638 contracts with the Red Lake tribal council. Indian Commissioner Ross Swimmer explained, “We have control over the program, they have to operate it in a certain way … and we have control of the accountability of it.” However, as Swimmer acknowledged during an interview with the Red Lake Peoples Council later that same day, the only remedy offered by the B.I.A. was the Red Lake court of Indian offenses—administered by the tribal council under B.I.A. contract. The transcripts published by Press/ON thirteen years ago are revealing:

Lawrence: You know, you just contracted [the Red Lake court of Indian offenses] out to Roger [Jourdain]. In spite of all these violations of civil rights, that’s the tribal court.

Swimmer: Yes, it’s tribal court.

Lawrence: So, where do we take it?

Swimmer: Tribal court. … That’s it. Those are your remedies. You don’t have any remedies, is what you’re saying to me.

Lawrence: OK.

Swimmer: That’s right.

Lawrence: So, we can do nothing about it.

Swimmer: That’s right.

Emboldened by the U.S. Government, the Red Lake tribal council passed Resolution No. 53-88: “… the Red Lake Tribal Council does hereby go on record as opposing and objecting to any attempt to enforce application of the ICRA [Indian Civil Rights Act]” at Red Lake. It is worth noting that under P.L. 93-638 contracts, the contracting tribe administers the B.I.A.’s programs. The B.I.A. still owns their programs—including the Red Lake court of Indian offenses.

1990: Civil Rights Commission review of the Red Lake court of Indian offenses

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights responded to concerns about civil rights violations in Indian courts by holding hearings. Its Confidential Draft report included 32 meticulously-documented pages chronicling the problems at the Red Lake court of Indian offenses between 1972 and 1989.

The Civil Rights Commission concluded their draft with the observation that, “absent Congressional action to provide meaningful enforcement of the ICRA, it may be that the final paragraph of the Red Lake statement submitted for the Commission’s record will provide the final word:

“The Tribe deeply resents the intrusion by the United States Civil [R]ights Commission and the Congress into Red Lake affairs through the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act. …”

William J. Howard, General Counsel for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, mailed Red Lake tribal council chairman Roger Jourdain a copy of the Commission’s confidential draft report on Red Lake on May 30, 1990, “in order to give your tribe an opportunity to file a response.”

The Civil Rights Commission did not include the section on the Red Lake court of Indian offenses in its final report.

1990: Red Lake Code of Indian Offenses revised
On September 11, 1990, the Red Lake tribal council adopted “recommended changes to the Tribal Law and Order code.” The new code, drafted in collaboration with the B.I.A., was initially based on the tribal code for the Quinault tribe in Washington. The 1990 Red Lake version of the code § 101.01, Subd. 1, established “the Red Lake court of Indian offenses as a court of record,” and detailed everything from the qualifications of judges to watercraft regulations in seventy-four sections arranged into fifteen chapters.

Although the 1990 code included a section detailing the “right to jury trial,” neither it nor the 1958 Constitution provide for civil rights generally. The 1990 code designated that appeal from the decisions made in the Red Lake court of Indian offenses be made to a “Court of Appeals” described in §101.02. Subd. 2., of that section, however, provides that appeals be heard by three judges, “none of whom shall have been the Judge that decided or was involved in the case being appealed at the trial level.” Since there are only three Indian court judges at Red Lake, appeal is thus impracticable, or worse, subject to further proceedings overseen by politically-indebted ad hoc judges with no legal training. The lack of judiciary for a court of appeals may be why the code does not spell out the rules to be used in such a “court of appeals.”

Although the September 1990 code resolved some of the more glaring problems adhering to the 1952 code, particularly the overtly unconstitutional sections, it did not address the problems of, as the Minnesota Clergy and Laity Concerned expressed it, “justice … meted along the same lines of patronage.” The new code did not touch structural problems tainting most Indian courts—including lack of separation of powers and tribal governments which “function like corrupt, dynastic, political machines.” It did not resolve the fundamental problem of courts of Indian offenses: that there is no legal basis for the establishment these courts.

And, the 1990 code continued to ignore the civil rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Nonetheless, the code was approved by the “Secretary of the Interior or his duly authorized representative,” as required by the 1958 Red Lake constitution—as the “tribal code” for the Red Lake court of Indian offenses, a federally-funded federal instrumentality operating under the authority of the Secretary of the Interior as well as the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

1995: Red Lake “kangaroo courts”

In his 1995 book, We Have The Right To Exist, Wub-e-ke-niew describes his people’s “oral history filled with cases chronicling derailment of what might be considered justice.” He describes the process at the Red Lake court of Indian offenses as it remained in the mid-1990s: “… before court is held, the Indian Agent goes over the cases to be heard with the judge and tells him how much of a fine to levy, and how many days the defendant should spend in jail.

QUOTES: Chief Crazy Horse

A very great vision is needed and the man
who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks
the deepest blue of the sky.
Chief Crazy Horse 


“My lands are where my dead lie buried”

“I will return to you in stone”
When asked about the small stone he always wore.

“A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky. I was hostile to the white man…we preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers came and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came…They say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first impulse was to escape but we were so hemmed in we had to fight.”

“If I ever pass away, the white men will take you under their custody as wards”
Spoken to the Sioux Tribe

“My bones will turn to rock and my joints to flint” His body is said to have been buried at a place of a steep face rock cliff.
After a time spent on top of Beaver Mountain two days before his death

After the last observance of the true original and genuine sun dance observed on behalf of Crazy Horse just before he traveled to Fort Robinson, Chief Crazy Horse requested of the warrior cousins (Eagle Thunder, Walking Eagle, Kicking Bear, Black Fox and Flying Hawk – the last three being brothers and sons of Chief Black Fox also known as Great Kicking Bear – all five being blood-cousins of Crazy Horse) who participated in the Sun Dance that:“At my death paint my body with red paint and plunge it into fresh water to be restored back to life, otherwise my bones will be turned into stone and my joints into flint in my grave, but my spirit will rise” But when Crazy Horse was killed, the warriors were in such a condition of extreme mourning that no one remembered his request.

Letter from Leonard Peltier, 25th Year Reunion of Incident At Oglala

Letter from Leonard Peltier
25th Year Reunion of Incident At Oglala
June 26, 2000

Greetings Friends and Supporters,

Twenty Five years has passed since the fatal shoot-out on the Jumping Bull Ranch occurred, and for twenty-five years I have been forced away from my people and my home, which I consider Oglala to be.  I miss being with all of you as I have always loved and respected the Lakota Ways.  I have always admired the lakota people, especially the Oglalas for their strength, determination, and courage to continue the struggle to maintain our traditional ways and sovereignty.  Not a single day passes when I do not dream of being home with you.  Twenty-four years is a long time to be in prison, but if I was out and you were facing the same kind of brutality you faced under the Wilson regime, I would not hesitate to stand next to you and resist the violent oppression you were forced to endure.

But I am not out, I remain locked up in here, and it has not been an easy 24 years.  Prison is a repulsive, violent place to exist in. But again, none of this could stop me from standing with you until the great Oglala Nation is free.  I know a lot of problems continue to exist for you.  Corrupt tribal government officials are still taking advantage of the people and crimes committed against Natives receive little if no priority.  It makes me very sad to know that after everything we went through in the 1970’s our people still continue to suffer so much.  The memory of all of those who lost their lives during that time also continues to haunt me.

As we gather together during this time of rememberance, I am aware that the FBI has also organized a 25-year memorial for their dead agents. I do not fault them nor do I  disagree with what they are doing. I think all people should gather in memorial for any of their fallen. But, when you analyze this whole event of theirs, you are slapped in the face with a cold reality of racism. Not once have they, nor will they mention our fallen warriors and innocent traditionalists slaughtered in the 70’s after Wounded Knee II. They will not even as much as mention Joe Killsright Stuntz. We cannot even get an acknowledgement from them that they were wrong in supporting such a cruel and corrupt regime as Dick Wilson’s. They continue to deny that any Indian people were killed as a result of their direct input with the terrorist squad, the GOONS. The fact is they do not think of Indian people as human beings. Whenever you deny that such atrocities happen, and we know they did happen, it only means they don’t consider the people who died to be human. Hitler’s regime felt the same about the Jews.

But please don’t understand my frustation for a lack of sympathy about the loss of the agents’ lives.  I do feel for the families of the agents because I know first hand what it is like to lose a loved one. I have lost many loved ones through the years due to senseless violent acts. If I had known what was going on that day, and I could have stopped it, I would have.

But in order for us to bring reconciliation to what was a very difficult time we first must have justice. We must continue to ask when the lives of our people will be given the same respect and value as others.  When will they stop carelessly locking up our people without applying the scrutiny and care the judicial system is supposed to guarantee?  When will guilty beyond a reasonable doubt become a standard that applies to us?  When will our guilt have to be proven, rather than assumed?  We suffer equally, but we are not treated equally.  There is hope for a better future and for peace.  But in order for us to live in peace, we must be able to live in dignity and without fear.

In closing, I want to say that your voices are important and your involvement in the effort to gain my freedom is crucial.  You know the truth and only you can express the reality of those brutal times.  It is also important that you explain to the youth what we stood for and why, because they are our hope for the future.  They can carry out our dream for our people to have pride in their culture, good schools, food, and health care, and most importantly, justice.  Please know that I continue to be here for you too, although I am limited in what I can do from behind these walls.  However, I will continue to help in whatever I can from here.  The one thing my situation has brought me at least, is a voice, and my voice is your voice.  So please do not hesitate to write me or contact the LPDC to inform me of what is going on.

I am growing older now and my body is beginning to deteriorate.  I sometimes wonder just how much longer I will be with you all on Mother Earth.  I hope that it’ll be a while longer because I long to be with you, my family and friends, to share some time together.  If not, and I don’t make it home to you, I will always be with you in spirit, at every Sun Dance and Inipi Ceremony, remembering both the happy and the painful times we shared.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,

Leonard Peltier

Harriet Nahanee dies. . .NYM press release March 2007


NYM press release March 2007

unceded Coast Salish Territory

March 30, 2007

Harriet Nahanee, a 73 year old Pacheedaht Grandmother, Elder, and Warrior passed away on February 24, 2007, in the manner that she lived her life. Standing strong defending Our Land and Our People. She died from pneumonia and undiagnosed lung cancer after serving 2 weeks in prison for her part in the 2006 blockade to defend Eagle Bluff, from the expansion of the Sea to Sky Highway, on her husband’s Skwxwu7mesh territory. The highway expansion is a key development project for the corrupt Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics.

In her lifetime, Harriet Nahanee was a loyal, supporter of AIM Warrior, Leonard Peltier, who was extradited from Vancouver in 1976, and convicted of the murder of 2 FBI agents. AIM had been actively supportive in the Lakota struggle to defend their communities in Pine Ridge from the FBI instigated war for the uranium in the Sacred Black Hills. The 2 FBI agents died in 1975 in a gunfight they started against an AIM family style camp. Since Leonard Peltier’s conviction, the truth has come out that the FBI fabricated testimony and evidence to extradite and convict Leonard Peltier of these murders.

Today, the FBI is attempting to pin Anna Mae’s murder on her trusted friend and comrade, former AIM member and Warrior John Graham. When Anna Mae’s body was found, the FBI attempted to cover-up her murder, but failed when a 2nd independent autopsy made the discovery of a bullet lodged in her head. Since that time, the FBI has worked hard over the years to pin Anna Mae’s murder on her own organization, AIM.

Since John Graham’s arrest in Vancouver in December 2003, for the 1st degree murder of Anna Mae, Harriet Nahanee, has stood by John through his 4 years of living under house arrest, and through his 2005 Extradition hearing that was approved. During Harriet’s last days in the hospital before she passed away, her close friend Jennifer Wade of Amnesty International visited her. Her last words to Jennifer were about her biggest concerns. First she brought up her 78 year old Eagle Bluff Comrade Betty Krawczyk, who is currently serving a 9-15 month sentence for her part in the blockade. Then Harriet brought up John Graham and his May 17, 2007 extradition appeal. Jennifer Wade reassured her that John’s loved ones, his supporters, and his lawyers would work hard to fight John’s extradition.

On behalf of Harriet Nahanee, a strong Pacheedaht Elder, who has passed away standing up for Our People, we ask that people look at the facts in this murder case, and to stand strong beside John Graham. This murder case has nothing to do with delivering justice for Anna Mae, and is only a part of the FBI smear campaign that is set out to destroy any pride Natives may have about the contributions made to Our People by the American Indian Movement.