Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties



During the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, treaty negotiations served as critical sites of contact between Anishinaabeg – members of the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi – Americans, and peoples of mixed ancestry across the Great Lakes. While the United States government attempted to exert complete control over all the territory it claimed on paper, the Great Lakes region's Indigenous inhabitants strived to uphold sovereignty within their Homelands. Over the course of several decades, many Anishinaabe and American individuals emerged as diplomats at multiple treaty negotiations that would collectively reshape how both Native and Euro-Americans resided upon and interacted with the Lands around them. Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties is a digital cultural heritage project that uses Gephi, an open source data visualization platform, to illustrate linkages between individuals who presented themselves as representatives for their communities and nations time and time again. Although the Great Lakes region may be geographically vast, connections weaved through recurring diplomatic entanglements in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries rendered it more socially close-knit than casual onlookers might expect.

Masthead Image: "View of the Great Treaty Held at Prarie du Chien, September 1825" by James Otto Lewis (Courtesy: Library of Congress)

Map illustrating cessions of Indigenous Lands through Michigan-related treaties between 1795 and 1842.
1. Treaty of Greenville (1795); 2. Treaty of Detroit (1807); 3. Treaty of the Maumee Rapids (1817); 4. Treaty of Saginaw (1819); 5. Treaty of Sault Ste. Marie (1820); 6. Treaty of Chicago (1821); 7. Treaty of Carey Mission (1828); 8. Treaty of Chicago (1833); 9. Treaty of Washington (1836); 10. Treaty of the Cedars (1836); 11. Treaty of La Pointe (1842)
Deed to Mackinac Island featuring pictographs representing Indigenous signers characterized in the document as 'Representatives and Chiefs' of the 'Nation of the Chipiwas.'
"Indian Deed for the Island of Mackinac" (Courtesy: William L. Clements Library)

Scholarly Potential; or,

A Tale of Two Compacts

To better understand how Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties could enrich analyses of late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century treaty negotiations, an examination of two documents is beneficial. First, there is the deed to Mackinac Island (pictured to the right), which Ojibweg in northern Michigan sold to the British government in 1781. On display in the deed are pictographs symbolizing the clans (or nindoodemag) of the Ojibwe signers who the document characterizes as "Representatives and Chiefs" of the "Nation of the Chipiwas." Perplexingly, though, none of these pictographs seem to resemble those of nindoodemag most commonly present at contemporary diplomatic engagements. Historian Heidi Bohaker argues that "frequency variations [among nindoodem pictographs] reflect the political importance of some clans at specific locations." So, why would British officials invite members of nindoodemag whose presence around Mackinac Island was less pronounced than others to act as representatives at its sale? Considering a second document presents a potential explanation...

Following the intercession of Indian Agent Henry Rowe Schoolcraft behind the backs of Ojibwe and Odawa diplomats, the Treaty of Washington (1836) led to the cession of over one third of the future state of Michigan to the United States government. Well before negotiations began, however, Schoolcraft was already maneuvering to boost Anishinaabe receptiveness to American terms. He dispatched his mixed ancestry brother-in-law, William Johnston, to Sault Ste. Marie to recruit some of his kinsmen to serve as Indigenous ambassadors. Consequently, Ojibwe leader Waub Ogeeg traveled to Washington, D.C. even though, as scholar Charles E. Cleland asserts, he was "of the addik, or caribou, totem from western Lake Superior and...[therefore] not [one of the] legitimate speakers for people who resided at Sault Ste. Marie." Schoolcraft surely hoped that one of his relatives could sway other Anishinaabe leaders despite the dubiousness of his position as a proxy for his community. Thinking back to 1781, could the British have similarly brokered Mackinac Island's sale with Ojibweg they shared especially strong relations with regardless of nindoodemag?

Key Considerations



To further contextualize the visualization at the center of this project, a complete list of the treaties it incorporates is provided below. Within the "Treaty Name" column are the most commonly used names for each document. Adjacent entries listed under "Alternate Name" represent these documents' formal titles as recorded in the second volume of Charles J. Kappler's Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904), which is digitally accessible through the Oklahoma State University Library. Finally, links to scanned copies of original treaties and/or cleaner transcripts of these primary sources are compiled under "Original/Transcript" based on their availablity. All links to accessible scans derive from Treaties Explorer, a project that the Indigenous Digital Archive has spearheaded in conjunction with the National Archives. Transcripts added for their enhanced readibility originate from either the Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library's Avalon Project or Central Michigan University's Clarke Historical Library research resources.

Treaty Name

Alternate Name


Treaty of Greenville Treaty with the Wyandot, Etc., 1795 TE, AP
Treaty of Fort Industry Treaty with the Wyandot, Etc., 1805 TE
Treaty of Detroit Treaty with the Ottawa, Etc., 1807 TE, CL
Treaty of Greenville Treaty with the Wyandot, Etc., 1814 TE
Treaty of the Maumee Rapids Treaty with the Wyandot, Etc., 1817 TE, CL
Treaty of St. Mary's Treaty with the Potawatomi, 1818 TE
Treaty of Saginaw Treaty with the Chippewa, 1819 TE, CL
Treaty of Sault Ste. Marie Treaty with the Chippewa, 1820 TE, CL
Treaty of L'Arbor Croche and Michilimackinac Treaty with the Ottawa and Chippewa, 1820 TE
Treaty of Chicago Treaty with the Ottawa, Etc., 1821 TE, CL
Treaty of Prairie du Chien Treaty with the Sioux, Etc., 1825 TE
Treaty of Fond du Lac Treaty with the Chippewa, 1826 TE
Treaty of Butte des Morts Treaty with the Chippewa, Etc., 1827 TE
Treaty of Carey Mission Treaty with the Potawatomi, 1828 TE, AP
Treaty of Tippecanoe Treaty with the Potawatomi, 1832 TE, AP
Treaty of Chicago Treaty with the Chippewa, Etc., 1833 TE, CL
Treaty of Washington Treaty with the Ottawa, Etc., 1836 CL
Treaty of Detroit Treaty with the Chippewa, 1837 CL
Treaty of La Pointe Treaty with the Chippewa, 1842 TE, CL
Treaty of Fond du Lac Treaty with the Chippewa of the Mississippi and Lake Superior, 1847 TE
Treaty of La Pointe Treaty with the Chippewa, 1854 TE
Treaty of Detroit Treaty with the Ottawa and Chippewa, 1855 CL
Treaty of Detroit Treaty with the Chippewa of Sault Ste. Marie, 1855 CL
Treaty of Detroit Treaty with the Chippewa of Saginaw, Etc., 1855 CL


TE = Treaties Explorer; AV = Avalon Project; CL = Clarke Historical Library

Background Image: "Ratified Indian Treaty 23: Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, Chippewa, Potawatomi, Eel River, Wea, Kickapoo, Piankashaw, and Kaskaskia - Greenville, August 3, 1795" (Courtesy: National Archives)


This project was made possible through the generous support of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative administered by Michigan State University's Department of Anthropology in conjunction with LEADR: The Lab for Educational Advancement in Digital Research and MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. Special thanks to Dr. Ethan Watrall as well as all those in the 2020-2021 CHI Graduate Fellowship cohort who provided feedback on this project.


This project was designed by Michael J. Albani, a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Michigan State University who specializes in United States history, Native American history, women's and gender history, and digital humanities. He also holds an MA in History from Loyola University Chicago and a BA in History and English from Albion College. Inquiries for him can be made through his website, or he can be reached via email at albanimi(AT)msu(DOT)edu.