Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties
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Indian Affairs: Law and Treaties
Charles J. Kappler, produced by the Oklahoma State University Library
Reviewed Nov. and Dec. 2007.

Early Recognized Treaties with American Indian Nations,
University of Nebraska Libraries—Electronic Text Center
Reviewed Nov. and Dec. 2007.

Imagine a social studies teacher on the Hopi Reservation who wishes to explain to her students the intricacies of indigenous treaties on an important reference point in everyday Hopi political and economic life. Where is she to turn? Her school has a computer with online access, nearby is a Hopi tribal government building that also has Internet access, and a few of her students have home connections. Her lesson might be less accurate and less effective if she were not able to make use of new, extensive online references to American Indian treaties and laws.

Charles J. Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Law and Treaties (7 vols., 1904) has long been a comprehensive text of U.S. laws, treaties, and executive orders regarding Native Americans. In 1996, Oklahoma State University’s Electronic Publishing Center began digitizing this seven-volume reference work and making its content available online, with volume 2, exclusively on treaties and executive agreements, becoming the first to reach electronic users. The final volume went online in 2003. The completed online resource, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, makes this governmental record available to the public through a clear, navigable Web site.

Like the published edition, Indian Affairs is divided into seven volumes, with volume 2 cataloging treaties from 1778 to 1871, when Congress, with the approval of President Ulysses S. Grant, ended all future treaty making with native nations and executive agreements between the U.S. government and tribes to 1883. The other six volumes contain laws and executive orders up to 1971. The online version of volume 2 is organized unlike the others, offering two contents pages—one that lists Indian nations in alphabetical order with links to documents pertaining to each tribe and another that lists various agreements in chronological order. Contents pages for the other volumes follow a different format: each lists laws passed during individual sessions of Congress, as well as proclamations, treaties, and agreements.

The laws sections make up the bulk of both Kappler’s original edition and this site. Each session of Congress has its own page listing any acts concerning Indians. Clicking on the link to an individual act reveals still more links to the transcribed text of the law and to images of corresponding pages from the original edition. The images of the original version do not, unfortunately, include links to the preceding or following pages, hindering navigation slightly. But each volume is indexed with links to the text of the applicable law or treaty; and the entire archive at the Electronic Publishing Center is searchable, making it relatively easy to go directly to a specific act or treaty as well as to images of original pages.

Title page view of ratified treaty # 3: A Treaty Held at the Town of Lancaster.

Not all treaties recognized by the federal government are in Kappler’s original edition or on this site. Imagine this time a social studies teacher in Scarsdale, New York, who wants to teach a lesson on Empire State indigenous peoples. He must turn to Early Recognized Treaties with American Indian Nations, a digital project of the University of Nebraska Libraries Electronic Text Center that was designed to complement the Indian Affairs site. The University of Nebraska site offers the full text—in transcribed versions and through images from original book sources—of nine early treaties not covered by Kappler. The first seven were negotiated by the British between 1722 and 1768 but recognized by the U.S. government. The final two treaties—one negotiated by the state of New York during the period of the Articles of Confederation, when states had the power to negotiate treaties with indigenous peoples, and the other signed with the United States—were also not included in Kappler’s volume; instead, they are in American State Papers: Indian Affairs, volume 1 (1832). The aim of this site was to complete the digitization of Indian treaties started with Oklahoma State University’s project, thereby “ensur[ing] access to all federally recognized treaties with the tribes.”

Early Recognized Treaties with American Indian Nations is easy to browse, and it benefits from its straightforward, relatively modest goal. The home page has a link to each of the nine treaties. Each treaty’s page includes the full text of the treaty as well as links to images of the document from its original book source—including, among others, E. B. O’Callaghan’s Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York (15 vols., 1853—1887) and Samuel Hazard’s Pennsylvania Archives (12 vols., 1852—1856). The original sources for the treaty texts are given at the top of each treaty page in a “Document Metadata” section, and sources are also provided on the site’s home page. Each original document image has a link back to the treaty page but, like on the Indian Affairs site, does not include links to preceding or subsequent pages in the original sources.

The search feature on this site is helpful and uncomplicated. A search for “wampum” brought up occurrences in six of the seven English treaties. Clicking on a single treaty in the result list leads to the full text of the treaty, with “wampum” highlighted each time it appears. On the whole, Early Recognized Treaties with American Indian Nations is a worthy complement to Indian Affairs. Together, these online databases provide an invaluable resource for the wide community of people interested in the history of U.S. government Indian policy.

But, alas, these two sites are not the last word on the subject. Imagine a social studies teacher in Rock Hill, South Carolina, near the Catawba nation’s settlement. That teacher cannot find the online text of the Pine Tree Hill (1760) and Augusta (1763) treaties made between Catawbas and the British South Carolina colony that were recognized as binding in recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions having to do with Catawba land claims. The same is true for treaties involving Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts indigenous peoples. Additional sites for those agreements and perhaps others are no doubt eagerly anticipated.

John R. Wunder and Christopher Steinke
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, Nebraska