“Why Treaties Matter:” More Than Just an Exhibit

In August 2010, a resolution creating a unique partnership of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC), and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., was approved unanimously by the tribes residing in Minnesota and made it possible for “Why Treaties Matter: Self Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations” to be developed as an educational tool for Minnesota audiences.

This exhibit reveals how Dakota and Ojibwe treaties with the U.S. government affected the lands and lifeways of the Indigenous peoples of the place we now call Minnesota, and explains why these binding agreements between nations still matter today. It is meant to share important cultural information with all Minnesotans, that they may better understand the true circumstances surrounding Minnesota land, its use, and even the treatment of the land’s Indigenous peoples today.

The exhibition includes 20 free-standing banners with evocative text, historical and contemporary photographs and maps, a touchscreen video experience featuring the stories of Dakota and Ojibwe people, and an enhanced website at treatiesmatter.org.

There are standards-aligned educator guides that accompany the exhibit. These guides provide educators with background, student readings and activities, vocabulary lists, and suggested web and print resources in order to deepen their students’ experiences with “Why Treaties Matter.” These educator guides can be repurposed for other group experiences as well.

When the exhibit travels to communities, it is hosted by a lead organization and its partners. These hosts develop public activities that complement the exhibit, tailored to their specific community. For example, hosts have held film screenings, book reads, art shows, and panel discussions. It is these activities that really make the exhibit and the experience around it come alive.

Six communities are hosting “Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations” traveling exhibition and community engagement program during its 2018-2019 tour:

  • Lower Sioux Community, Morton – July 27-September 2, 2018
  • Otter Tail County Historical Society, Fergus Falls – October 15–November 25, 2018
  • Blue Earth County Historical Society, Mankato – December 3, 2018–March 10, 2019
  • Whitney Senior Center, St. Cloud – January 28 – March 10, 2019
  • Century College, White Bear Lake – March 18 – April 28, 2019
  • East Side Freedom Library, St. Paul – March 18 – April 28, 2019

The Humanities Center and our partner, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, are seeking additional host communities for the “Why Treaties Matter” program that will communicate, in a meaningful and truthful way, the history of the sovereignty of and treaties between nations in Minnesota territory (and, later, the state of Minnesota) to educators, students, and the general public. Host sites will also build relationships that will endure beyond the active exhibition period, center indigenous knowledges and expertise in the hosting of the exhibition and community engagement activities, and improve the amount and quality of teacher instruction about American Indian histories and cultures in the project’s partner school districts.

Does this sound like work that you and your organization are ready to do? Does this sound like information that your community needs? If you are a Minnesota non-profit 501(c)(3) organization or a public agency such as a unit of local, state, or tribal government (some schools and libraries may be public agencies), you are welcome and encouraged to apply! You’ll need to create an account with our online grants system and share basic information about your organization by June 22, 2018. The full proposal is due on June 29, 2018.

Please consider joining the wonderful group of hosts above, spread the word throughout your networks, and remember, if your organization isn’t ready/able to be a host organization on its own at this time, consider partnering with another organization in your community!

Learn More

You can also reach out to Jennifer Tonko, program officer at jennifer@mnhum.org or 651-772-4264.

Jennifer Tonko

Author: Jennifer Tonko

Jennifer Tonko is the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Program Officer for Community Engagement and Traveling Exhibits. 

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