150 Years Later Navajo Nation Treaty With the U.S. Government Travels to Navajo Nation
Signed on paper torn from an army ledger book, the Navajo Nation Treaty, signed June 1, 1868, reunited the Navajo with the land taken from them. From 1863 to 1866, the U.S. Army forced more than 10,000 Navajo from their homeland to Bosque Redondo, a camp in the New Mexico desert. The U.S. then sent Gen. William T. Sherman to make them agree to move to “Indian Territory” (Oklahoma), but the Navajo made an eloquent case to Sherman to allow them to return home instead. In 1868, the Navajo became the only Native Nation to use a treaty to avoid removal and return home. This treaty guaranteed a reservation in Dinétah, Navajo for “among the people.” Dinétah includes northwestern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona.
As a part of the exhibition “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations,” the National Museum of the American Indian is rotating treaties between the United States and Native Nations. On Feb. 20, the museum will install the Treaty between the United States Government and the Navajo Indians Signed at Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory, June 1, 1868. All 20 pages of the original document, on loan from the National Archives and Records Administration, will be on view through early May.
In May, the treaty will move from the museum to the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz. There it will be on display by June 1, in time for the 150thanniversary of the signing of the treaty, through July 5. This is the first time this treaty will be on display in the tribal museum.
In addition to displaying the Navajo Nation treaty, the museum will also showcase a newly installed Navajo loom, on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Its woven hanging blends Navajo designs with the American flag. It was likely intended as a diplomatic gift from Juanita (Asdzáá Tł’ogi), the wife of Navajo leader Manuelito, to the U.S. Manuelito is best known for resisting the Americans until 1866, when he and around 50 people from his band finally surrendered and were taken to Bosque Redondo. His advocacy for Navajo sovereignty persisted beyond the removal and into the late 19th century.
Displaying original treaties in “Nation to Nation” is made possible by the National Archives, an exhibition partner. Several of the treaties required extensive conservation treatment by the National Archives’ conservator prior to loan. There are a total of over 370 ratified Indian treaties in the National Archives. For more information about these treaties, see https://www.archives.gov/research/native-americans/treaties. The next treaty to go on display at the National Museum of the American Indian will be the Treaty with the Delaware, 1778 in early May.
The treaty currently on display is the Treaty with the Potawatomi, 1809, also known as the second treaty of Fort Wayne. This treaty between the United States and the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi and Eel River tribes spurred Shawnee chief Tecumseh’s movement to halt U.S. expansion in Indian Country and join the British against the U.S. in the War of 1812. This original document has been on display since Sept. 19, 2017.
The National Museum of the American Indian is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present and future—through partnership with Native people and others. Located on the National Mall at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue S.W., the museum is open each day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). The museum is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and at AmericanIndian.si.edu.
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