• themorningwatchmsu

ANALYSIS: MSU’s Misguided “Native Sovereignty” Over University Lands

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

"A modern university should not feel the need to apologize for a 200 year old treaty."

Partitioning of land according to 1819 Treaty

Author: David Barton

Recently, I noticed a sign in Snyder-Phillips hall regarding MSU’s feelings towards the university being built on “ancestral” lands of Native Americans. That is completely ridiculous. I will give you exactly what they have written, and break down why it is silly and unnecessary.

This is how it starts:


We collectively acknowledge that Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg – Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi people. In particular, the University resides on land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. We recognize, support, and advocate for the sovereignty of Michigan’s twelve federally-recognized indian nations, for historic indigenous communities in Michigan, for indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and for those who were forcibly removed from their homelands. By offering this Land Acknowledgement, we affirm indigenous sovereignty and will work to hold Michigan State University more accountable to the needs of American Indians and indigenous people.

First of all, the treaty they are referring to is two hundred years old. How does this have any relevance to anything in 2019? No one who was involved, or even knew anyone involved in the treaty has been alive for the last 150 years. A lot of things have happened in the last 200 years, some of them, we should actually be ashamed of; like the Detroit Lions having two win-less seasons in their history.

Let’s get into the history of the treaty.

In the year of 1812, we, the Americans, went to war against the British for the 2nd time in 45 years. Our nation was upset that the British kept capturing our sailors and forcing them into the Royal Navy. That is a major violation of international law, and generally not tolerated. So, we went to war with them. The British hit us first, capturing Forts Mackinaw and Dearborn. They massacred our militia at River Raisin with their native allies, and captured and burned Washington D.C. During this time, we captured numerous British ships, liberated Detroit, and defeated the British at New Orleans.

That was a very brief overview of the war. I only mentioned native allies once, but they were involved in almost every land battle. The incident I did mention was the River Raisin Massacre. I mentioned it because the British Native Allies slaughtered dozens of captured American militiamen before fighting was over. This massacre is also important to the treaty because it happened near what is now Monroe, Michigan.

Now, the Saginaw Treaty of 1819. Based on the Land Acknowledgement statement you would think that no natives were involved in its writing or signing. Where in reality, 114 Native Americans signed the treaty, compared to ten Americans who signed. One could interpret from this fact that the Native Americans found the treaty to be at least acceptable. The treaty also has in it multiple provisions for land to be set aside for native chiefs and their families or tribes.

The treaty is nine articles long, with the longest article being seventeen sentences long. That being Article 2, dealing with what lands are reserved for the Chippewa tribes; well over 50,000 acres. The treaty gave the United States of America about six million acres, including: modern Kalamazoo, Jackson, Okemos, and Lansing, as well as the reddish areas on the map below.

The Saginaw Treaty of 1819 also built on the 1807 Treaty of Detroit, which gave the United States the green territory on the map.

So, I would argue this treaty meant well. It did not intend to take advantage of the Native Americans. And, it all around gave us some of the best land in lower Michigan.

No Native Americans were “forcibly removed from their Homelands,” with this treaty. They willingly left.

The “indigenous” peoples of North America have sovereignty. They always have. We just beat them in war. And in exchange for not slaughtering or enslaving them, as other natives might do, we formed a treaty that allowed them to keep some of their lands, in exchange for not attacking our civilians. It is unquestionable that treaties were routinely broken throughout the 1800s, but that fact is unrelated to MSU.

At the bottom is the full statement presented by Michigan State University.

Basically, it states “we are sorry for the “forcible removal” of Native Americans from the land we currently use due to a treaty from 200 years ago.” It is complete and utter nonsense. They also say that the signing parties understood the treaty in “starkly different terms.”

The treaty used language and geographical names, that natives signed to. Above is Article 1, Article 2 regards the lands natives would keep within the treaty boundaries. Article 3 regards the lands held for specific natives and tribal chief family members. Article 4 states that the United States will pay the Chippewa tribe forever for the land. Article 5 states that the native tribes can still hunt on the ceded land according to a previous treaty. Article 6 says the United States will pay the Natives for the homes they have to leave due to the treaty. Article 7 details how the United States can build roads on the lands being ceded. Article 8 describes how the United States will provide farming utensils and blacksmith services to the Native Americans for as long as the President deems proper. And finally, Article 9 describes when the treaty will take effect.

MSU does not needs a “Land Acknowledgement Statement.” No natives were harmed in the founding of this University, but dozens of American settlers were. A modern university should not feel the need to apologize for a 200 year old treaty. It is unbecoming of a major university to kowtow to foreign entities, such as the independent and sovereign native American Tribes.

Contributor: David Barton

Map of the lands ceded by Native Americans in the Michigan Territory:


We acknowledge that Michigan State University occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Anishinaabeg – the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. The University resides on Land ceded in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. We recognize that settler and Indigenous signatories understood the terms of the treaties in starkly different terms. According to a map within the University archive, Anishinaabeg maintained an ‘Indian Encampment’ south of the Red Cedar River when classes were first held at the University (then known as Michigan Agricultural College) on May 13, 1857.

As one of the first Land Grant colleges, Michigan State University is a beneficiary of Land allotted through the passing of the Morrill Act in 1862. The University finds pride in calling itself ‘The Nation’s Pioneer Land Grant College,’ a term we find highly problematic and recommend that it no longer be used. The Morrill Act, which enabled the Land Grant system, was passed in the same year as both the Homestead Act–granting 160 acres to individual settlers who ‘improved’ and farmed land in the West–and the largest mass hanging in the history of the United States, the state-sanctioned murder of thirty-eight Dakota. We understand that there is an indelible relationship between the creation of Land Grant institutions, the simultaneous and ongoing expropriation of Indigenous Lands, and the governmentally-coordinated genocide against Indigenous peoples. By recognizing the ways that settler-colonial institutions benefit from these interconnected histories, we work to hold the University accountable.

In American Indian and Indigenous Studies, we recognize, support, and advocate for the sovereignty of Michigan’s twelve federally-recognized Indian nations (Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Hannahville Indian Community, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), as well as other Indigenous people and historic tribes in Michigan (Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, Mackinac Band of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, and Swan Creek Black River Confederated Ojibwa Tribes), across Turtle Island, and throughout the Fourth World.

We acknowledge the real ways that the State of Michigan, Michigan State University, and residents of this Land have benefitted from the forced and systematic removal of Anishinaabeg and other Indigenous peoples from Michigan, particularly during the Indian Removal period of the nineteenth century. We affirm and acknowledge the Burt Lake Band, who were literally burned from their houses in 1900. We also acknowledge the Métis community who were forced from their community on Bootaaganini-minis (Drummond Island), when the border was drawn between the US and Canada. Likewise, we recognize that parts of what is now Michigan includes Land within the traditional Homelands of the Miami, Meskwaki, Sauk, Kickapoo, Menominee, and other Indigenous nations.

We collectively understand that offering Land Acknowledgements or Land Recognitions do not absolve settler-colonial privilege or diminish colonial structures of violence, at either the individual or institutional level. We recognize that Land Acknowledgements must be preceded and followed with ongoing and unwavering commitments to American Indian and Indigenous communities. In AIIS, we push Michigan State University to recruit, retain, and support American Indian and Indigenous students, faculty, and staff. Moreover, we affirm that Michigan State University must support Indigenous communities and nations in Michigan, as well as throughout Turtle Island, and across the Fourth World. We recognize, support, and advocate for the sovereignty of Michigan’s twelve federally-recognized Indian nations, for historic Indigenous communities in Michigan, for Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and for those who were forcibly removed from their Homelands. We affirm Indigenous sovereignty and hold Michigan State University accountable to the needs of American Indian and Indigenous peoples.

856 views0 comments