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E. Fei & K. Morrow Case Statement

NHC 2016 Working Group
Challenging the Exclusive Past: Relevancy, Inclusion, and Diversity
E. Fei & K. Morrow (Minnesota Humanities Center) Case Statement

Why Treaties Matter and the case for collaborative, community-driven programming

Focused on the future of our state, the Minnesota Humanities Center brings the unique resources of the humanities to the challenges and opportunities of our times. We work in partnerships across the state to build a thoughtful, literate, and engaged citizenry. Through the humanities, this Center builds community and brings into public life the untold stories that deepen our connections to each other. The Humanities Center: engages all Minnesota communities in imagination, creativity, and innovation toward a vital and prosperous future; partners with schools and community members to increase academic achievement for all; builds the capacity of partner organizations to conduct highquality and meaningful programs for the public; and creates and provides vibrant and engaging public programs that support community decision-making.

Our public humanities work is guided by a commitment to amplifying absent narratives – those stories and voices that have been marginalized, silenced, or overwritten for generations. We know that to increase engagement with and among communities we must: build and strengthen relationships, recognize the power of story and the danger of absence, learn from and with multiple voices, and amplify community solutions for change. Developing rigorous humanities programming that adheres to these core values, as we have done with the Why Treaties Matter traveling exhibit, has been (and continues to be) for us a process of continual learning and refinement that is driven by advisory groups of community elders, scholars, storytellers, educators, and youth. As we carry on with the Why Treaties Matter project and others across Minnesota, we seek to meet real community needs and work in a way that is inclusive, relevant, pluralistic, and diverse.

Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations is an exhibition, an event, and a conversation whose issues and themes have been identified and prioritized by the 11 sovereign nations that share the same geography as Minnesota. The realization and ongoing success of this project is the result of deep collaboration between these sovereign nations, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (a state agency), the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and the Minnesota Humanities Center. The content, focus, and design of the Why Treaties Matter project comes directly from the state’s American Indian nations so as to place American Indians at the center of a narrative that so often characterizes their existence as, at best, peripheral to the historical record. The important issues identified by the tribes are outlined in the title of each exhibit banner: 

  • We Have Always Been Sovereign Nations
  • A Deep Connection to Place 
  • The Native Origins of Sovereignty
  • Treaty Making in America
  • U.S.—American Indian Treaties in Minnesota
  • How Treaties Changed Lands and Lifeways
  • Ojibwe Rights Retained
  • The Dakota Reaction to Broken Treaties
  • Dakota Diaspora
  • Facing Dislocation
  • Allotment: Dismantling Tribal Land Ownership
  • Exploitation of Tribal Land
  • Defending Treaty Rights in the 20th Century [and beyond?]
  • The Origins of Modern Tribal Government
  • Why Treaties Matter Today: Tribal Government
  • Respecting and Managing Natural Resources
  • Sovereignty Through Economic Development
  • Taking Care of the People
  • Treaties as Living Documents

The 11 sovereign nations identified these issues through a series of carefully coordinated in-person meetings with tribal leadership in their communities. MIAC staff and Humanities Center consultants met with tribal leaders to seek guidance on how the project should proceed, discuss what issues each community wanted to address, and gather feedback regarding the project’s overall concept and goals. In drafting the exhibit script, tribal leaders from each tribe reviewed the text two or more times to ensure the themes, ideas, issues, and narrative represent an authentic indigenous point of view on each issue.

During this process of continual collaboration and engagement, a multi-platform project that helps both students and the general public deepen their knowledge and understanding of Ojibwe and Dakota treaties as important living documents emerged. Why Treaties Matter came together as a project that achieves a remarkable cross-sector impact through four components: a traveling exhibit, including community engagement events and activities; an interactive website; education resources, including a companion Educator Guide for the Why Treaties Matter exhibit; and host site and educator community engagement capacity building. This final component responds to the need for host sites and educators to work with and within Dakota and Ojibwe communities in order to host the exhibit “in a good way” that centers indigenous voices and honors the project’s spirit of collaboration and community. Drawing from the knowledge of indigenous content partners and the Humanities Center’s work with educators, these community engagement workshops not only prepare host sites and educators to handle the exhibit with care, but they also broaden participants’ worldviews and give them the skills to deepen their personal and professional relationships with students and indigenous communities – outcomes that set the foundation for increased engagement while hosting the exhibit and beyond.

As an example of deep collaboration and community-driven programming, Why Treaties Matter represents the work of the Minnesota Humanities Center and our absent narratives approach at its very best. Through this project, we bring resources and institutional humility to learn from and with communities while working together to examine complex issues through humanistic inquiry. In so doing, we challenge an exclusive story of Minnesota’s past by inverting the dominant narrative and centering the perspectives of indigenous peoples whose knowledge of treaties has long been absented and overwritten.