Fort Laramie Marks 1868 Treaty Sesquicentennial

Friday, March 09, 2018

We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

As this poignant quote by Dr. King reminds us, history is a powerful influence. It’s important to take opportunities to reflect on the ways in which history has shaped our culture.

Fort Laramie played an instrumental role in Goshen County’s history. It first served as a private fur trading post, then a military post. The Fort has been preserved to tell the complicated tale of westward expansion and Native American resistance to losing their traditional lands and lifeways.

The Fort hosted several treaty negotiations with the Northern Plains Indian Nations, including the seminal Treaty of 1868, which was drawn out over the course of seven long months. The initial signing occurred on April 29 and the final — that of Red Cloud — on November 6.

The treaty set aside reservations for the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, as well as the Cheyenne and Crow Nations. The Arapaho never were provided with a reservation of their own. The reservations were smaller than previously agreed upon but included all of what is now South Dakota. In addition, the treaty promised the tribes could freely hunt on additional “unceded Indian territory” to the north, south and west.

The goal of the Treaty of 1868 was for peace. It did temporarily succeed in putting an end to years of bloody battles between white men and Native people in the Black Hills.

But the discovery of gold in the Black Hills changed everything.

Though the government offered to buy the land, the Sioux refused, considering the land sacred. As white men began to ignore reservation boundaries to seek riches, treaty promises were broken. The Army refused to deter prospectors and miners from crossing onto the land, which led to conflict.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the treaty, which vastly altered life for Native Americans. The Treaty of 1868 relegated tribes to ever-dwindling pieces of property. It coerced many of them to give up traditions such as hunting and have their children sent away to be educated in boarding schools, which attempted to force them to assimilate, stripping away their dignity.

Despite enduring incredible hardships, the tribes somehow managed to preserve their unique cultural identities. Fort Laramie National Historic Site, in collaboration with its traditionally associated tribes, is planning seven months of commemorative activities from April 28 to November 6, 2018.

“Working together with the tribes for nearly two years has been an amazing process,” says park Superintendent Tom Baker. “Seeking ways to appropriately commemorate the treaty has been challenging, yet rewarding.”

“Honoring the Spirit” will begin with a public opening ceremony on April 28 that includes prayer, drums and song as well as lessons on Native history and perspectives on the treaties. “In addition to appropriately commemorating the treaty,” says Baker, “the tribes will be sharing their cultural traditions, proudly showing the country that ‘We are still here!’ in spite of the genocide and attempts at assimilation.”

Federal, state and local officials and Native dignitaries will be present for the opening program on April 28, starting with private Native prayer and song ceremonies at sunrise and continuing with the main public program from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. There will be a variety of opportunities for discuss and interaction in the afternoon.

The initial tribal encampment will extend through May 1. The public is encouraged to attend to learn about the unique cultural traditions and teachings of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Dakota and Lakota nations. Native artists and food vendors will be on hand during the weekend. Traditional dance will be offered in the evening.

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