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The Treaties of the 1800's

Treaty Locations and Father Baraga's Missions.jpg

Treaties and the years they were enacted for the regions and Father Baraga's primary locations

(Map is from the Atlas of the Great Lakes Indian History, 156-157)

Father Frederic Baraga arrived in the United States during a time and in a region where treaties would be the central focus for the Ojibwe people of the region.  Father Baraga's presence would follow along the trail of the treaties as he helped the Ojibwe people learn of Catholicism.  The area that Father Baraga first served the Ojibwe people in Arbre Crochet at that time had not ceded their lands or entered into a treaty with the United States yet not more than a few years after his arrival the Arbre Crochet Catholic natives would be a challenge to the fur traders who had switched their business model from the fur trade industry to treaties themselves.  This is the context in which Father Baraga would begin his mission in La Pointe where he would be working primarily with the Ojibwe's, including Chief Buffalo who was the primary signer of the treaties that were to be enacted. 

What are treaties?

Although most would believe that a treaty meant that the Natives had sold their land to the government, this often was not the case.  Treaties were agreements between the United States and Native Americans were made primarily for the purpose of creating a written compromise for how the land would be used between the Native American's and the Europeans who were entering into the region.  The natives often received money and goods in exchange for this land use.  

Treaties prior to Father Baraga's Arrival

Prior to Father Baraga's arrival, the Catholic Church was already working with the native people to try and find a way to keep them on the land at the mission of St. Joseph which was located on the southwestern part of Michigan.  The natives then in this region had an established history with the Catholic Church.  The Jesuits began work with the Ojibwe people in that region in 1730.  The French controlled this area in 1761 and was one of the primary trade locations, but the mission during this time had not been in use. 


Prior to Father Baraga's arrival and the 1830 Indian Removal Act, a mission was re-established at this location and native people came from distant locations in order to be a part of the ground-breaking.  When the Ojibwe were going to be pressed to be removed from the land then, the Catholic Church bought regions around their tribal lands to ensure that they would have a place in which they could stay. 

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Map of the villages, missions and White Settlements in 1830, the year the Indian Removal Act was enacted and the same year that Father Baraga arrived in the United States. The triangles signify the tribes, the crosses are the missions, the squares with the dots in the middle were the military forts and the dots are European settlements.

1830 Indian Removal Act

In 1830 a major shift would happen that would have a significant impact for all indigenous people who lived east of the Mississippi river on the eastern side of the United States.  Congress enacted the Indian Removal Act which stated that all indigenous people needed to relocate to the western side of the Mississippi.  A primary removal location was set up for them in Oklahoma.  The Catholic Church in the Ojibwe regions were opposed to their removal and instead insisted on finding a way for the Indigenous community to stay on their homelands.  In that same year Father Baraga was granted approval to come to the United States to assist with the Ojibwe nation.  

Father Baraga worked in Arbre Crochet from 1831 to 1832.  During that time he had established relationships with the regional churches as well as with the trading post that was considered the headquarters of the fur trade industry and controlled the straights of Mackinac.  In this region a military post was also set up.  Not long after Father Baraga's arrival in this region, the Black Hawk wars broke out in the southwest corner of Lake Michigan starting on May 14, 1832.  This can be seen on the map in the regions with the red stripes.  This war was so named after the warrior Black Hawk and began on May 14, 1832.  The St. Joseph Mission was used as a secondary military base during that time. 


During this time Father Baraga was serving at Manistique, MI with the Ojibwe community.  After this conflict, the United States put additional pressure on the native communities to cede their land.  It was on December 17th of 1832 that Father Baraga first noted his desire to serve the native community on Madeline Island.  It was in this same year that Father Baraga printed his first book in Ojibwe which was called the Otawa Anime-Misinaigan which was an Ojibwe prayer book.

1831-1834: Michigan Missions
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Black Hawk War Map and locations where Father Baraga was located between the years of 1831 and 1835

1833: The Chicago Treaty

In 1833 the Potawatomi would sign a treaty called the "Chicago Treaty".  In this treaty the government specified that the Ojibwe people would have the ability to stay on their land if they were to convert to Christianity.  The 1833 treaty would impact the region south-west of Lake Michigan where the Black Hawk Wars began.

In this year although Father Baraga had expressed interest in going to Madeline Island, he actually next ended up in Grand Rapids, MI.  He arrived there in June of 1833 and then 'permanently' settled in the location on September 23 of that same year.  It was here and during that year that he had established the first Catholic Church of Grand Rapids, MI.  Father Baraga built this church in a cornfield on the northern side of the Grand River which was at that time considered un-ceded territory although the land on the opposite side of the river was ceded land per a treaty of 1821.  His presence was not popular among the settlers of the region who persecuted him for the work that he was doing for the native community.  Not long afterwards, Father Baraga moved to the eastern side of Michigan to the Detroit region in 1834.

1835: Madeline Island

"In the summer of 1835 a delegation of Ottawa chiefs visited the Mackinac Agency (Sault Ste. Marie) and offered to sell Drummond Island to the United States.  Schoolcraft [who was the Indian Agent for the Ojibwe's on Mackinac Island] notified his superiors of the proposal and received instructions to investigate possible terms of sale.  At the same time, he should also inquire whether the Indians living north of Grand River [Grand Rapids] on the Lower Peninsula would be willing to part with their lands and, if so, on what terms.  He added that most of the bands now favored selling on favorable terms with provisions for reservations, the right to hunt on the ceded lands, and the designation of a future place of residence.  Although the largely Catholic Ottawas of L'Abre Croche dissented from this view, he believed that their objections could be overcome." (Bremer, pg. 158)  During that same timeframe Father Baraga was located at Sault Ste. Marie where the Ojibwe natives were gathered for treaty payments and to discuss the upcoming treaty.  He left that location to go to La Pointe on July 10. 

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The locations of 1836 treaty connections.  Father Baraga was in Sault Ste Marie during these negotiations.

Not long after this decision was made, the American Fur Company, which had headquarters on Fort Mackinac decided to move their headquarters to La Pointe where Father Baraga would be serving.  It is at this location that Chief Buffalo who would be making the primary decisions regarding the treaties that would soon be put in place between the government and the Ojibwe people of that region. 

1836: Michigan's treaty with the Ojibwe people

On March 28, 1836 in Washington, DC., Schoolcraft concluded and signed the treaty.  The treaty guaranteed that the Ojibwe people would have permanent reservation lands and perpetual access to natural resources.  The United States government guaranteed that it would pay for the land and provide additional services such as the use of a dormitory constructed on Mackinac Island.  After the Ojibwe representatives left Washington, congress altered the treaty to say that this guarantee only lasted five years for the Ojibwe people before the federal government would forcefully remove them from northern Michigan.  Schoolcraft later endorsed only two years.  In that same year, the AFC fur trading company moved their main headquarters from Mackinac Island to La Pointe where Father Baraga would now be staying.  

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Wisconsin Territory in 1836

1837: The Ojibwe/Dakota Treaty

Not more than two years after Father Baraga took residency at Madeline Island, Chief Buffalo (who primarily resided on Madeline Island) signed his first treaty which was the Treaty of 1837 which can be seen on the map above.  During this time the fur traders would switch their business from the fur trade industry to the treaties themselves.  Father Baraga would see the collapse of the fur trade industry and the impact that it had on the Ojibwe people of the region.  As a direct result of the decline and the change in the fur traders mission the payments to the fur traders through the treaties at an all time high and the Ojibwe people would see their payments decrease.  In addition, the Treaty of 1837 also allowed for the fur trade companies to enter the timber market.  The Ojibwe people would make it clear that they retained their rights to the deciduous trees in the region amongst other rights although they knew that they were dependent as well on these resources to ensure the well-being of them and their families.

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The boundaries of the treaties and the dates that Father Baraga was in that location

During this time Father Baraga would be hard at work creating books for the natives in the Ojibwe language.  In 1837 he published the first Catholic catechism book in the Ojibwe language.  He also published a book in French called Abrégé de l'histoire des Indiens de l'Amérique Septentrionale which he would use to elicit help from France to raise funds for the Ojibwe natives.  He also started to work with families such as the Cote family who lived moved from the Fond du Lac reservation where Father Baraga had visited in the past to Grand Portage which was on the northwest side of Lake Superior.  The Cote family would work with the fur traders of that region to help the Ojibwe's earn money through fishing.  In this same year, the Financial Panic of 1837 would begin and would further economically challenge the natives of that region. 

1838: The Potawatomi Relocation
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Map showing location of Father Baraga at the time of the Potawatomi removal

The 1837 treaty was also signed by the Potawatomi tribe.  Although the treaty did not mention relocation, the government said that the Ojibwe had signed this treaty for this intent.  Then, in the year 1838, the Potawatomi tribe of the Ojibwe in lower Michigan and Illinois were forcefully removed from that area by militia.  Chiefs Kee-wau-nay and Nas-waw-kay were part of this forced march.  Over 40 Ojibwe had passed during this removal, most of which were children.  During this removal, Father Benjamin Petit joined the Ojibwe on their 660 mile journey from the homelands to the newly designated lands.  Upon their arrival, the Ojibwe (Potawatomi tribe) asked for a priest.  At this point, Father Christian Hoecken came and founded St. Mary's Mission at Sugar Creek, Kansas.  

St. Joseph Mission - 
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Potawatomi forced removal from St. Joseph Mission area to Kansas

Father Baraga continued to be hard at work prior to the beginning of this march.  At this time he had established St. Joseph's Catholic Church on Madeline Island, worked with Father Pierz to re-establish a mission at Grand Portage.  Pierz baptized sixty-four people in this region.  Father Baraga had another agent named Pierre Picotte helping to instruct the Ojibwe in the Catechism and preparing them to join the Catholic Church.  During that winter Father Baraga composed yet another sermon book in Ojibwe called "Gigikwe-Masinaigan" which contained the epistles and gospels of all the Sundays and holydays of the year.  He also had a short history of the old testament and instructive extracts from the four gospels, Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of St. Paul and the other Apostles.  

1842: Treaty of La Pointe

"By 1840, population of settlers in Wisconsin had risen to above 130,000 people, but the people voted against statehood four times fearing the higher taxes.  Finally in 1848, Wisconsin citizens, envious of the prosperity that federal programs brought to neighboring Midwestern states, voted to approve statehood." (

Father Baraga would remain on Madeline Island with Chief Buffalo until the completion of another treaty between the federal government and the Ojibwe which directly impacted the region on which Chief Buffalo lived.  This was the Treaty of 1842 which was officially proclaimed in 1843.  In this same year (1843) Father Baraga's presence was requested by the natives in L'Anse, Michigan prior to this treaty being enacted.  At this time Father Baraga changed his main location from La Pointe to L'Anse to be with the natives of that region.  

The government wanted to be able to remove the Ojibwe from northern Wisconsin in the 1840s, but the Ojibwe refused to leave their homes.  During this timeframe (in 1844), Chief Buffalo passed a pipe to Governor Doty in hopes of obtaining peace. Governor Doty remained in Wisconsin through that year but then was unable to have public support enough to hold the seat.  In 1846, Governor Doty returned again as a delegate to Wisconsin's statehood and then was elected to the U.S. house of representatives.  In 1849, the Ojibwe chiefs (with Chief Buffalo at that time being around 90 years old), went to Washington to ensure that the government understood that the treaties were not signed as an agreement for removal.  Unfortunately, President Taylor refused to listen to them. 

1846: Father Baraga's Trek
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Father Baraga took the largest trek known to his history in 1846, where Father Baraga's cross is located.  He traveled to the different Ojibwe tribes during this time.  Early in the year, still in winter, he traveled from L'Anse to La Pointe to Fond du Lac back to La Pointe and then had his attempted voyage to Grand Portage.  This total trek was close to 500 miles.  Father Baraga ended up, by canoe, in Schroeder, MN where we now find Father Baraga's Cross in honor of his voyage.  

Father Baraga's travels in 1846

1850-1851: The Sandy Lake Tragedy

In 1850, the Sandy Lake tragedy happened during a failed attempt to remove the Ojibwe from their lands.  Prior to this tragedy the treaty payments were moved from La Pointe to Sandy Lake.  When the Ojibwe people went to collect their payments the Indian Agent didn't arrive for nearly a month after the negotiated date.  The Ojibwe people waited as this at that time was their means of survival.  After nearly a month and a half they were able to collect their rations and treaty monies and still chose to travel back to their main homelands.  In this attempt of removal, nearly 400 Ojibwe lives were lost due to starvation and disease.  Father Baraga was noted to be in L'Anse at this time with the natives of that area although the news of such a loss no doubt would trouble his mind for years to come.  He would note the challenges that he struggled with in his journals and even after these challenges, he still worked with the Ojibwe natives to establish more churches and lands for them.  His struggles with what transpired were echoed throughout the region as newspapers at that time would speak of the tragedy.  Many would join their voices together on behalf of the Ojibwe natives in the region.  

1852: Pierz to Minnesota

Father Pierz was a close associate to Father Baraga and at the time of the Sandy Lake Tragedy was working in Sault Ste Marie working with the Ojibwe people while Father Baraga was in L'Anse.  Around this time he got into a dispute with the Diocese of Cincinnati as he had a request to be sent to Minnesota to work with the Ojibwe of that region.  In 1852 he got his wish and went to Minnesota and was responsible for caring for the entire region north of St. Paul.

On June 27th of that same Year Father Baraga made the announcement: "Today I received the first report of my nomination for the Bishopric of Sault Sainte Marie.  Providence appears to want to call me to the chief pastorship on Lake Superior; where I may then also feed his (too much neglected) sheep! (Baraga's Diary, 41)"

1853: Father Baraga becomes Bishop

On July 8 Father Baraga finished his Ojibwe Dictionary which would then allow many people to be able to learn the Ojibwe language and work with the Ojibwe people in the various regions.  On October 9th of that same year Father Baraga was officially notified of his appointment as Bishop and was consecrated Bishop by Pope Piux IX on November 1st.  

During that year Father Baraga was assigned the missions of Northern Michigan and some of the islands.  In the year of 1854 Father Baraga was assigned missions in Northern Wisconsin and Northern and Lower Michigan.  Finally in 1855 Father Baraga was given the missions in Canada, and northern and eastern Minnesota.  

1854: The Second Treaty of La Pointe

This effort on behalf of the natives would end up winning the natives some of the largest reservations east of the Mississippi river.  The treaty for these reservations was signed in 1854 and also granted the natives access to be able to fish, hunt and gather wild rice in the region outside of the reservations.  These reservations now make up what is known as the Bad River, L'Anse with Lac Vieux Desert, Lac du Flambeau, Lac Courte Oreilles, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Ontonagon and Red Cliff.  It should be noted that many of these locations were locations that Father Baraga paid a visit to in 1846. 

Abt 1854 Reservation land east of the Mi
1854 - Reservations created in the Lake

Reservation sizes in the region where Father Baraga served compared to other reservations east of the Mississippi

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