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)
At the core of Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties is an interactive visualization of connections between approximately 1,600 Anishinaabe and American signers of 24 treaties beginning with the Treaty of Greenville (1795) and ending with the Treaty of Detroit (1855). It can be viewed by clicking the "Visualization" button above. Initially, the aim of this project was to analyze the signers of 11 treaties that resulted in the cession of Indigenous Lands (pictured to the left) the United States government would eventually consolidate into the state of Michigan. However, it soon became clear that concentrating solely on these documents would produce an incomplete work of digital cultural heritage. In the decades following European contact, Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples who called what is now Michigan home (indeed, whose descendants continue to call it home) navigated between borders Euro-American powers were attempting to cement. They transgressed territorial and national lines which remained remarkably permeable well into the nineteenth century.
Thus, what started as a Michigan story quickly broadened to encompass most of the Great Lakes region, and it raised an assortment of important questions along the way. How, for instance, might Indigenous mobility in such a space coupled with Anishinaabe and American individuals' participation in multiple treaty negotiations have complicated American expansion and state formation efforts? Furthermore, what kinds of individuals repeatedly appeared to sign compacts with such significant consequences? The visualization Six Degrees of Great Lakes Treaties presents will hopefully help untangle the twisting and turning relationships late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century treaty signers shared. Visitors to this site can aid in that endeavor by leaving comments or critiques on the project dataset. Data was scraped from treaties listed in the "Sources" section below and cleaned using OpenRefine.
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?
|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 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)