VI. Suggested Learning Activities

Drawing Lines

A map is a visual representation of spatial relationships encoded its own language and provides a knowledgeable reader with a wealth of information. It can not only tell a person how far he or she is from a destination and provide information about how to get from point A to point B, but it can communicate the location of social and political boundaries as well as natural resources and the built environment. Importantly, maps often convey all this information at one time in ways that can greatly influence how we perceive the world around us. But, like any text, it is important to question the information a map presents to us. This exercise is designed to get students to begin to critically question the assumptions maps project onto relationships between people and the ownership of land.

For Native Americans and white settlers, lines drawn on maps designated where they could live and often the size and shape of their parcels. In the United States, the Land Ordinance Act of 1785 established the system in which new public lands would be surveyed: Generally, it divided newly acquired public lands into six-mile squares called townships and then subdivided that into 36 sections of a square mile each. Each section contained 640 acres that could be divided into halves (320 acres), quarters (160 acres), and so forth down to forties (40 acres). This parceling of land in squares of various sizes helped shape the environment Americans created after they settled an area and was reflected in the land grants given out under the Oregon Donation Land Act in 1850 and the Homestead Act of 1862. Have your students examine some of the maps included in this packet (and perhaps bring in other, more contemporary maps) and have them answer questions like:

Turning to the maps that show the Oregon Country (Figure 1) and the Olympic Peninsula (Figures 2-8) ask your students to:

You can also ask students to draft their own maps of the history they are studying. What would they include? What would they leave out? Why?

Lost in Translation

Some of the largest criticisms of the treaty negotiations were that there were insurmountable communications barriers that made it impossible for the Indians and whites to understand each other. Although there were many avenues for misunderstanding, two of the most obvious were, first, the inability of the treaty negotiators to speak a common language, and, second, the inclusion of references and ideas that would have had no meaning for the Native Americans in Washington Territory.

Clause by clause

One of the big issues with the way Stevens conducted the treaty negotiations was that the intricate and complex discussions were carried out almost exclusively in Chinook Jargon, a trade-based, composite language with a total vocabulary around 500 words. Many scholars and modern observers recognize, as Daniel Boxberger wrote in 1979, that the Chinook Jargon “was inadequate to express precisely the legal effects of the treaties, although the general meaning of the treaty language could be explained.” Further, he notes that “Many of those present, however, did not understand Chinook jargon.” Further complicating the picture is that oftentimes (the Makah being a notable exception) the negotiations involved several tribes of Indians, each of which spoke a different language. The end result is that it is not clear how well the two sides understood each other.  This exercise helps students explore the difficulties this presented.

In the records from the Makah treaty negotiations, it was noted that, “The treaty was then read and interpreted and explained, clause by clause.” After explaining the background to the students, place them into small groups and tell them that they are going to join the treaty commission as translators, supplying them with copies of the Treaty with the Makah, 1855 and the Chinook Dictionary. Assign each group a short passage from the treaty to translate into Chinook Jargon (you may find that a single, well-chosen sentence will get the point across effectively). Explain that they may find words that don’t translate exactly. Ask them to be creative and find words that make logical substitutes. For example, they will not find the word “law” in the dictionary, but they may want to consider using “truth,” “writing,” or “to order.” Give them five or 10 minutes and then check in. Ask them to read aloud a verbatim transcription of their Chinook translation rendered in English then ask other students to explain what they think was the intent of the original passage. Ask the group to read out the original passage. Did the translation convey the correct ideas? Would the Makah have really understood what they were agreeing to? What does this say about the treaty-making process?

Note: A member of the treaty commission who was also an ethnologist compiled The Chinook Dictionary. He included several terms—such as “breasts” and “testicles” that might be inappropriate for the classroom. For that reason a slightly abridged copy of the dictionary is included. (See Chinook Dictionary Abridged.)

Suggested passages for translation:

Alien concepts

The meeting of the American treaty commissioners and the Indian leaders was often the meeting of two worlds that not only spoke different languages but ordered their lives and communities in different ways and had developed technologies and social institutions that fit their particular needs and circumstances. For example, in non-literate Indian societies, the concept of a written contract (like a treaty) may have made no sense. Likewise, the notion of the Indians’ “leaderless” communities challenged American ideas of political sovereignty and integrity. A careful look at the treaties reveals many ideas and concepts that Native Americans might have had trouble understanding—not because they were not capable of understanding them but because the American treaty commissioners imposed alien concepts on the Native Americans. This exercise highlights some problems of that trans-cultural communication.

After explaining the background of the Quinaielt Treaty (it was made with the Quinault, Quileute, Hoh, and Queets Indians), pass out copies of the treaty and ask students to read them carefully, noting words, terms, or phrases that might indicate concepts that would have been alien to the Indians on the Olympic Peninsula (tell them to assume for this exercise that there were no translation problems). (See Treaty with the Quinaielt, 1855.) For example, in the first sentence of Article 1, would the Natives Americans have understood “tribes and bands” in the same way Americans would have? Likewise, while American Indian policy consistently aimed to extinguish Indian “title” to land, what would that mean in a society where people were often entitled to use the same piece of land for different purposes at different times of the year?

Other passages that might be useful for discussion include:

Article 6. This passage deals with the right of the federal government to force the Indians to move to a new reservation or, at some point in the future, have their reservation allotted to individual Indians. You may want to call attention to the part that says the Quileute, Hoh, Quinault, and Queets would be subject to the same terms as “provided in the sixth article of the treaty with the Omahas.” You may want to refer students to that treaty and ask if they understand Article 6 (it deals with the size of the allotments and the legal requirements the Indians would have to meet to acquire legal title to their own land). (See Treaty with the Omaha, 1854.) You may then want to note that there is no evidence that any of the Indians whom Stevens negotiated with ever received a copy of the Treaty with the Omahas.

Article 10. This passage deals with the establishment of agricultural and industrial schools. This could lead into discussion about the different ways children are educated in a society. What skills and knowledge did the Americans see as important for Indians to learn and how did that indicate what the Indians’ proper role was in American society? Also, from an Indian point of view, what lessons would likely be missing from this education? You may also want to note that attendance in these Indian training schools often meant leaving the Indian community and being placed under the supervision and authority of a white teacher. How might that have affected Indians’ desire to attend?

Article 12. This is a short passage but an intriguing one. How might Natives have understood the word “dominions” or the phrase “foreign Indians”—particularly since their kinship ties had traditionally crisscrossed the arbitrary national boundaries established by the Americans and the English?

Treaty Evolution

The terms of the treaties Americans made with Indians changed over time, reflecting evolving power relationships. Generally speaking, Americans got more demanding and less accommodating as the nation grew in power and expanded its national boundaries.  For example, the United States, in its first treaty, sought to appease the Delaware Indians and keep them from allying with the British during the Revolutionary War by, among other provisions, guaranteeing the Delaware’s “territorial rights in the fullest and most ample manner.” (See Treaty with the Delawares, 1778.) Twenty-six years later, however, the United States sought to acquire Delaware lands and negotiated a treaty that ceded a large tract of land to the nation for less than $5,000 paid out over 10 years. That treaty also justified the sale of the lands because the tribe’s extty). How is that different from the treaty with the Delaware? Does that reflect any changes in power between Americans and Indians?

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