RED WING -- From 1777 to 1871, the U.S. signed hundreds of treaties with Native American nations throughout the territory that is now known as the United States.

Though the treaties, about 370 in all, were signed over 100 years ago their importance and impact can be felt today.

Goodhue County is hosting an exhibit from the Minnesota Humanities Center titled “Why Treaties Matter.” As the name suggests, the exhibit’s goal is to explain why these agreements made centuries ago remain important to people and communities. People may remember the exhibit from when it came to Red Wing in 2012.

"One of the main reasons the History Center staff chose to display this exhibit again was we felt it is important to remind the public about the history of treaties throughout the state and how these treaties affected the Native American populations including the local Prairie Island community," said Afton Esson, archives and library manager.

The exhibit at the history center allows visitors to travel through time by following displays that inform viewers about treaties, the people and groups involved in their creation and the various results of these agreements.

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Along with photos and documents shown on these displays, museum-goers can use their smartphone to scan QR codes that lead to videos of experts giving more information about treaties and their history.

QR codes are part of the Why Treaties Matter exhibit currently hosted by the Goodhue County Historical Society. Visitors can scan the code with their phone to watch a video that provides more information about treaties and their impact. Photo by Rachel Fergus/RiverTown Multimedia.
QR codes are part of the Why Treaties Matter exhibit currently hosted by the Goodhue County Historical Society. Visitors can scan the code with their phone to watch a video that provides more information about treaties and their impact. Photo by Rachel Fergus/RiverTown Multimedia.

"Why Treaties Matter" in 2020 is also available online. The website is easily accessible and allows visitors to follow a preset order through the virtual exhibit (mostly chronological) or jump to topics that the viewer finds interesting.

The photos and videos seen in the in-person show also appear online.

Discussing the impact of more than 300 treaties would be a large undertaking for one exhibit. Instead of overwhelming visitors with the entire history of treaties between Native American nations and the U.S., "Why Treaties Matter" focuses on Minnesota and treaties with Dakota and Ojibwe nations. For example, visitors will learn about the Pike Treaty. The exhibit explains:

“Indians within Minnesota signed more than 25 treaties with the U.S. between 1805 and 1867. The Pike Treaty of 1805 was the first agreement in which the United States acquired tribal land within the state’s current boundaries.”

At the end of the exhibit in-depth information about the importance of treaties today is given. These reasons include:

  • The affirmation of Native American nations' sovereignty.
  • Tribal governments manage their own territories and keep if for future generations.
  • Native American nations manage economic development of communities.
  • Treaties are living documents that show the past, present and future.

Access for the virtual exhibit is available at treatiesmatter.org/exhibit.

The exhibit will be on display at the Goodhue County Historical Society until Friday, Dec. 4. Due to COVID-19 visitors are asked to call the center at least one hour before their arrival. The number is 651-388-6024.