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The Relentless Business of Treaties

The Relentless Business of Treaties

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How Indigenous Land Became US Property

Author Martin Case

Minnesota Historical Society Press (June 1, 2018)

How making treaties for land cessions with Native American nations transformed human relationships to the land and became a profitable family business


The story of “western expansion” is a familiar one: US government agents, through duplicity and force, persuaded Native Americans to sign treaties that gave away their rights to the land. But this framing, argues Martin Case, hides a deeper story. Land cession treaties were essentially the act of supplanting indigenous kinship relationships to the land with a property relationship. And property is the organizing principle upon which US society is based.

US signers represented the relentless interests that drove treaty making: corporate and individual profit, political ambition, and assimilationist assumptions of cultural superiority. The lives of these men illustrate the assumptions inherent in the property system—and the dynamics by which it spread across the continent. In this book, for the first time, Case provides a comprehensive study of the treaty signers, exposing their business ties and multigenerational interrelationships through birth and marriage. Taking Minnesota as a case study, he describes the groups that shaped US treaty making to further their own interests: interpreters, traders, land speculators, bureaucrats, officeholders, missionaries, and mining, timber, and transportation companies.

Odds are, the deed to the land under your home rests on this system.

Author information

Martin Case is a freelance researcher and writer. He was a key participant in the development of Why Treaties Matter, an exhibit collaboration of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the Smithsonian Institute

Reviews and news

In the media:
The Progressive
Indigeneity Rising/KFAI with Roy Taylor (at 4:55 mark)
Prairie Public Radio's Main Street
Friends of the St. Paul Public Library/Minnesota Book Award
Post by Martin Case on the Minnesota Humanities Center Blog
Open Rivers: Rethinking Water, Place & Community "On Teaching The Relentless Business of Treaties"

"With The Relentless Business of Treaties, Martin Case has successfully demonstrated how the treaty system rested in the creation and expansion of the property system in the United States. Additionally, he demonstrates how business interests and social forces impacted the United States’ attempts at treaty making. He illustrates how issues such as the formation of race influenced the passage of these treaties."
Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal

"This book is not just good, it is great. It reads like a conversation at a campfire—interesting, surprising, and inspirational. . . . Informal protocol dictates that a book reviewer, especially in a rave review, cite at least one or two minor cavils, perhaps to show that he or she read the book carefully. Not me. Not this time. . . . Reading this book is not like reading history, it’s like reading literature, a tragedy by a writer who understands that history is not at its best a social science but a part of the humanities. And the arts. Read this book."
Roger Welsch in Nebraska History

Advance Praise:

The Relentless Business of Treaties explains how the property system of the United States was foisted upon indigenous peoples through the mendacity of traders, speculators, and politicians. Commercial, family, and political ties among US treaty signers and negotiators ensured corrupt bargains and the tragic loss of tribal lands. From the first fur traders to the historians who spun the spurious yarn, the author dispels the great mythology of America’s westward expansion.”
Tadd M. Johnson, Esq., Professor of American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota Duluth

“This book has implications today that every US citizen should grapple with and understand. Although you won’t find these stories in textbooks, they show how the United States was built and how some Americans built their fortunes. This country’s unvarnished history—not always pretty, and distant from the mythological narrative that most children learn—is the version that belongs in classrooms.”
Edwin Schupman, Manager of National Education, National Museum of the American Indian

“This insightful exploration adds much-needed depth, clarity, and force to the record of diplomacy between Indigenous nations and the United States. By focusing on the understudied roles of non-Native individuals and interest groups who signed the treaties, Case offers a more nuanced understanding of the concept of property as it was discussed and ultimately redefined—in a manner that radically transformed and transferred most Native land into non-Native hands.”
David E. Wilkins, author of Hollow Justice: A History of Indigenous Claims in the United States

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 224 pages
  • 12 b&w photos
  • 6x9 inches
  • ISBN: 9781681340906

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