National Archives and Museum of Indian Arts & Culture Share New Online Education Tool Expanding Access to Treaties between the U.S. and Native Nations

Thanks to the generous donation from an anonymous donor, NARA collaborated with our digitization partner to launch the Indigenous Digital Archive’s Treaties Portal on Indigenous People’s Day, October 12, 2020. This website provides public access to digital copies of NARA’s series of ratified Indian Treaties. We worked with Dr. Anna Naruta-Moya and her team at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to make this access happen.

The ratified Indian Treaties, numbered 1–374, were transferred to the National Archives from the Department of State in the late 1930s. They are housed in a specially protected area within the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and are not pulled for use in the Central Research Room. Over 50 of the treaties are written on large sheets of parchment and several contain pictographs, drawings/maps, and wampum.  

I grew up in Massachusetts, a state with lots of Indian heritage, and used to walk the edge of a local lake collecting arrowheads. So it was from childhood on that I had an interest in those that were here first. Of all the things we have custody of and are responsible for—even the Charters of Freedom—I believe the Indian treaties are the most valuable documents in terms of reading the original language and the government promises, and realizing what was never delivered. I have had opportunities, as members of tribal elders or tribal lawyers have come to visit, to join them in the vault as they experience the same things.

NARA has been able to do needed conservation work, scan and digitize this historically and culturally important collection, and make these records accessible for anyone, anywhere, through our National Archives Catalog. Now, many more descendants of the original peoples can examine the names and seals and read the words set down by their ancestors so long ago. But more than that, the treaties are still relevant today as tribal leaders and lawyers continue to use them to assert their rights in court, such as in cases over land and water rights. With such increased access to these records, we plan to continue and increase our educational outreach to Native American communities, and to raise and increase awareness of Native American history.

Ratified Indian Treaty 37: Eel River, Wyandot,Piankashaw, Kaskaskia, and Kickapoo – Vincennes, Indiana Territory, August 7, 1803. National Archives Identifier 81145643

Resources on the Treaties Portal website include classroom ready curriculum and a set of three video workshops by Professor of Law Librarianship Sherri Thomas (Taos Pueblo and Black). The “How-To” workshops cover “Treaties – What Are They?”, “Treaties – Historical Context”, and “Research You Can Do with the DigiTreaties Treaties Explorer”. Closed Captioning and transcripts are also available. An additional education tool, a set of Native designed Treaties Trading Cards, will be available for free download or ordering in print form.  

I hope you enjoy learning more about the treaties, and we look forward to further work in making our records more accessible.