When it comes to American Indian treaties, the American polity too often forgets the realities of history. Prevailing perceptions are often not only inaccurate but also premised on outright falsehoods. Treaty-making was profoundly influenced by tribal conceptions of diplomacy. Colonial and early U.S. treaties especially were clothed in ritual, metaphor, and covenants that emphasized the sacred nature and purpose of diplomacy and represented a time when tribal nations were equal partners. To understand the nature and meaning of tribal treaties one needs to read them and recognize their sacred pledges and meaning, which are still relevant today.
This volume examines intertribal treaties and treaty-making and provides understanding of both the agreements and the diplomatic protocols in which they were enmeshed. It summarizes colonial Indian treaty discourse, intertribal treaties and diplomacy, the different eras of ratified and unratified U.S. treaties, foreign and state treaties with Indian nations, and the Indian agreements that followed the cessation of official treaty-making. It provides extensive lists of over 1,500 Indian treaties from all tribal diplomatic eras and includes dates, participants, purposes, and references.
By 1850 the Pima Indians of central Arizona had developed a strong and sustainable agricultural economy based on irrigation. As David H. DeJong demonstrates, the Pima were an economic force in the mid-nineteenth century middle Gila River valley, producing food and fiber crops for western military expeditions and immigrants. Moreover, crops from their fields provided an additional source of food for the Mexican military presidio in Tucson, as well as the U.S. mining districts centered near Prescott. For a brief period of about three decades, the Pima were on an equal economic footing with their non-Indian neighbors.
This economic vitality did not last, however. As immigrants settled upstream from the Pima villages, they deprived the Indians of the water they needed to sustain their economy. DeJong traces federal, territorial, and state policies that ignored Pima water rights even though some policies appeared to encourage Indian agriculture. This is a particularly egregious example of a common story in the West: the flagrant local rejection of Supreme Court rulings that protected Indian water rights. With plentiful maps, tables, and illustrations, DeJong demonstrates that maintaining the spreading farms and growing towns of the increasingly white population led Congress and other government agencies to willfully deny Pimas their water rights.
Had their rights been protected, DeJong argues, Pimas would have had an economy rivaling the local and national economies of the time. Instead of succeeding, the Pima were reduced to cycles of poverty, their lives destroyed by greed and disrespect for the law, as well as legal decisions made for personal gain.