ILTF is a national, community-based organization serving American Indian nations and people in the recovery and control of their rightful homelands. We work to promote education, increase cultural awareness, create economic opportunity, and reform the legal and administrative systems that prevent Indian people from owning and controlling reservation lands.
Learn more about the Indian Land Tenure Foundation.
In 2007, independent scholar Martin Case began to research the identities of men who represented the US at treaties with Indigenous nations. Some US signers are famous individually (Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor), but the US Treaty Signer Project was the first systematic effort to document who these men were as a group. Case demonstrated that the interests represented by US signers at the treaties, and the networks that connected them to one another, challenged the mythology in which US-Indian treaties are often shrouded. ILTF recognized an opportunity to shed more light on the complex process that transferred the continent’s resources to US control.
The Treaty Signers Project documents how narrow business interests and social connections heavily influenced the treaty making process and were largely responsible for the loss of so much Indian land. The “American Myth” presents “pioneers” as the driving force of America’s past. By contrast, the Treaty Signers Project presents the economic engines that actually drove U.S. expansion – interests that saw both Indian land and pioneers as sources of personal profit. The 2,300 men who represented the US in treaty negotiations secured hundreds of millions of acres of land for themselves, their families and their business partners – land that was sold to pioneers at a profit and includes the original sites for hundreds of cities and towns. They secured the titles to mines and timberland, and used positions in the Bureau of Indian Affairs to enrich themselves and their associates.
ILTF provided initial funding for the Treaty Signer Project, and has maintained an interest in the project throughout its history. In 2018 the Minnesota Historical Society published The Relentless Business of Treaties: How Indigenous Land Became US Property by Martin Case, a demonstration of how this research can deepen our understanding of US-Indian relations. The object of ILTF’s Treaty Signers Project is to make this research accessible for free to scholars, educators and the general public, and to foster real discussion about accurate history, not the idealized legends of westward expansion that America so often celebrates today.
US Treaty Signer Project Personnel:
Indian Land Tenure FoundationCris Stainbrook, PresidentNichlas Emmons, Program Officer
Project LeadMartin Case
Website/Database ConstructionJeff Esler
Project ManagerNathaniel Nesheim-Case
Research/Data EntryJess AnnabelleCommarrah BasharMichael BrandtLacey Buchda (ed.)Demetri DebeAmina Harper (ed.)Jonathan LundbergRiley Nesheim-CaseAdrienne PabstSophia Patane (ed.)Jessica RiceJake StoneCarissa ThomasAnn WolskiMitchell Zillman
The Relentless Business of Treaties: How Indigenous Land Became US Property
Martin Case (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018)
Land cession treaties
with Native American nations transformed human relationships to the natural world and became a profitable family business.
Minnesota Historical Society Press:
The story of “western expansion” is a familiar one: US government agents, through duplicity and force, persuaded Native Americans to sign treaties that gave away their rights to the land. But this framing, argues Martin Case, hides a deeper story. Land cession treaties were essentially the act of supplanting Indigenous kinship relationships to the land with a property relationship. And property is the organizing principle upon which US society is based.
US signers represented the relentless interests that drove treaty making: corporate and individual profit, political ambition, and assimilationist assumptions of cultural superiority. The lives of these men illustrate the assumptions inherent in the property system—and the dynamics by which it spread across the continent. In this book, for the first time, Case provides a comprehensive study of the treaty signers, exposing their business ties and multigenerational interrelationships through birth and marriage. He describes the groups that shaped US treaty making to further their own interests: interpreters, traders, land speculators, bureaucrats, officeholders, missionaries, and mining, timber, and transportation companies.
Odds are, the deed to the land under your home rests on this system.
Purchase The Relentless Business of Treaties Here
Praise for The Relentless Business of Treaties
This book is not just good, it is great… Case skillfully guides the reader through the complex tangle of law, cultures, history, and ethics—or more often than not the astonishing absence of even basic human decency— without being simplistic, condescending, or angry… If I were teaching a class in Native American culture, history, or law, I would make this book required reading. In fact, if I would require it for a class in historical research or writing. Reading this book is not like reading history, it’s like reading literature, a tragedy by a writer who understands that history is not at its best a social science but a part of the humanities. And the arts. Read this book.
Roger WelschNebraska History, Summer 2019
This insightful exploration adds much needed depth, clarity, and force to the record of diplomacy between Indigenous nations and the United States. By focusing on the understudied roles of non-Native individuals and interest groups who signed the treaties, Case offers a more nuanced understanding of the concept of property as it was discussed and ultimately redefined -- in a manner that radically transformed and transferred most Native land into non-Native hands.
David E. WilkinsHollow Justice: A History of Indigenous Claims in the United States
This book has implications today that every US citizen should grapple with and understand. Although you won't find these stories in textbooks, they show how the United States was built and how some Americans built their fortunes. This country's unvarnished history -- not always pretty, and distant from the mythological narrative that most children learn -- is the one that belongs in classrooms.
Edward SchupmanManager of National EducationNational Museum of the American Indain
From the first fur traders to the historians who spun the spurious yarn, the author dispels the great mythology of America’s westward expansion.
Tadd M. Johnson, Esq.Professor of American Indian StudiesUniversity of Minnesota Duluth