"Where shall we go? We know the country ... and we know not of any of fit for us to live upon"—Asakiwaki (Sac) and Mesquakie (Fox) chiefs to George Manypenny, Commissioner of the Office of Indian Affairs, October 7, 1853 (Herring 1990:88).
For more information about their stories, click on the names below:
During the mid-nineteenth century, as non-Indians (Americans, Europeans, and African-Americans) crossed the upper western plains of the United States, Dakota (Sioux), Pawnee, Ponca, Anishinaabe (Chipewa), Mesquakie (Fox), and Asakiwaki (Sac) Indian communities struggled to protect their land and cultures. The U.S. Government negotiated treaties with them, promising clothing, food, and protection on reservations in exchange for ceded territory and guarenteed peace. Nevertheless, many Indians faced disease, starvation, and demoralization due to overcrowding, meager rations, and the embezzlement of tribal money. Tensions grew, precipitating armed conflicts, most notably the 1857 Spirit Lake Uprising and the Dakota Uprising of 1862, when over 800 settlers were killed and 38 Dakotas executed for their participation.
Between 1850 and 1867, delegations of influential Indian community leaders traveled to Washington D.C. to describe reservation conditions and discuss treaties. Although many were traditional leaders, chosen by their people, the U.S. government appointed others because of their compliancy. While native leaders saw these visits as nation-to-nation conversations, U.S. officials used these meetings to demonstrate America's wealth and military power.
During these trips, the delegates were photographed in professional studios. These portraits were then available to the general public in bound volumes or as single prints, with little written documentation.
One hundred and forty-seven years later, using words from the Indian leaders themselves, this exhibit contextualizes the portraits, showing how Indian delegates created a place for themselves and their communities during the United States' nation-building process. Here, the portraits are no longer silent. Listen to what they say about the leaders' lives, families, and place in American history.