Treaties: Words & Leaders That Shaped Our Nation

Years of warfare between colonizers further escalated tensions between the tribes of the Great Lakes, their Indian neighbors and settlers because European colonial forces pressured Native communities to choose sides.

The Potawatomi and their Neshnabek brethren were accomplished warriors. During the fighting at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century, colonial military forces sought out Potawatomi warriors to serve as mercenaries and reached out to village leaders to form alliances. These village leaders consistently made decisions about alliances based on the potential advantages each colonial entity could provide them and their kinsmen.

The winners and losers in these battles eventually came together to determine the post-war terms of their relationships. The Constitution dictated that the federal government, not those of states or municipalities, had the authority to negotiate treaties with tribal governments. The prevalence of violence and hunger for tribal land that followed the American Revolution resulted in the U.S. entering into more than 200 peace and land cession treaties with tribes in the first few decades of the new nation’s independence.

The Potawatomi were signatories to more treaties with the United States than any other tribe. Despite signing more than 40 treaties during this time, the period between 1700 and 1900 was a time of conflict and removal for the Potawatomi people. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center’s Treaties: Words & Leaders That Shaped Our Nation gallery features several documents from this era that defined Tribal relationships with the government, including peace, reservation and removal treaties.