Why Treaties Matter exhibit travels to Itasca County

Posted in Community Leadership, Grants

Local community member visits the Why Treaties Matter exhibit at the Grand Rapids Area Public Library

“Knowing the realities of others around us helps to form stronger communities. The Why Treaties Matter exhibit gives us a better sense of who we’re living among and the land we’re living on.” – David O’Fallon, president of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

Take a minute to travel back in time to your history lessons in school. Remember your discomfort in the stiff, wooden desks, perhaps the sound of the chalk scraping against the blackboard and the booming timbre of your teacher’s voice.

Think back to the lesson about manifest destiny. Remember that term? You might recall it had something to do with American settlers and their belief that it was their destiny to expand their way of life to all of North America. You may have learned about their trials and tribulations and it’s possible you may have learned about the conflicts and resolutions they had with native peoples here in Minnesota.

While you may have aced the class and thought you knew everything there was to know about that time in history, in reality you were taught only half the story.

Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government of the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations, a nationally recognized, award-winning, traveling exhibit, emerged to bring the people of Minnesota the rest of the story. It is a collection of rich, authentic Dakota and Ojibwe voices, gathered  from all corners of Minnesota, that share stories of survival and creative leadership that occurred during the drafting of treaties made with the United States in the 19th Century and still today. It was created by a partnership between the Minnesota Humanities Center, Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and countless voices from Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations.

Last Friday the exhibit opened in our home community of Grand Rapids, Minnesota and for the next two years, it will be traveling around the greater Itasca County area.

So what will you learn from the exhibit that you didn’t learn in history class?

For starters, you will discover a part of your history that you’ve never known before — not narrated by a disconnected historian, but by Minnesota’s tribal elders.

“We weren’t taught this in school, but it’s the history of everybody in Minnesota,” said O’Fallon. “It’s a living history, a part of who we are. Treaty rights have been retained for centuries and still matter in today’s policy discussions.”

At the exhibit opening, Larry Aitken, Director of American Indian Studies at Itasca Community College, said, “Learning why treaties matter will make us all better people. If you understand what Native people came through, what we signed to be your neighbor and what was promised to us and never returned, we can be better neighbors and live together and honestly say to each other you’re my friend and I’m yours.”

As you take-in the exhibit, you will learn about the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples’ relationship with their homelands, the treaty-making process in America, the infringement on American Indian rights throughout history, and how treaties still matter today.

“If you take the opportunity to engage with the exhibit, you will have a richer understanding of not just Minnesota, Dakota, and Ojibwe history and the cultural roots from which treaties originated, but of the current, significant impact treaties have on our daily interactions as people and evolving communities,” said Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota Native American Advocate Sarah McBroom in the Grand Rapids Herald Review. “Treaties do matter – to all people who call Minnesota home.”

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