March 6, 1862
TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
The sad condition of the Indians of this State, who are my heathen wards, compels me to address you on their behalf. I ask only justice for a wronged and neglected race. I write the more cheerfully because I believe that the intentions of the Government have always been kind; but they have been thwarted by dishonest servants, ill-conceived plans, and defective instructions.
Before their treaty with the United States, the Indians of Minnesota were as favorably situated as an uncivilized race could well be. Their lakes, forests, and prairies furnished abundant game, and their hunts supplied them with valuable furs for the purchase of all articles of traffic. The great argument to secure the sale of their lands is the promise of their civilization. . . . The sale is made, and after the dishonesty which accompanies it there is usually enough money left, if honestly expended, to foster the Indians' desires for civilization. Remember, the parties to this contract are a great Christian Nation and a poor heathen people.
From the day of the treaty a rapid deterioration takes place. The Indian has sold the hunting-grounds necessary for his comfort as a wild man; His tribal relations are weakened; his chief's power and influence circumscribed; ad he will soon be left a helpless man without a government. a protector, or a friend, unless treaty is observed.
The Indian agents who are placed in trust of the honor and faith of the Government are generally selected without any reference to their fitness for the place. The Congressional delegation desires to award John Doe for party work, and John Doe desires the place because there is a tradition on the border that an Indian agent with fifteen hundred dollars a year can retire upon an ample fortune in four years.
The Indian agent appoints his subordinates from the same motive, either to reward his friends' service, or to fulfil the bidding of his Congressional patron. They are often men without any fitness, sometimes a disgrace to a Christian nation; whiskey-sellers, bar-room loungers, debauchers, selected to guide a heathen people. Then follow all the evils of bad example, of inefficiency, and of dishonesty, ---- the school a sham, the supplies wasted, the improvement fund or curtailed by fraudulent contracts. The Indian, bewildered, conscious of wrong, but helpless, has no refuge but to sink into a depth of brutishness. There have been noble instances of men who have tried to do their duty; but they have generally been powerless for lack of hearty cooperation of others, or because no man could withstand the corruption which has pervaded every department of Indian affairs.
The United States has virtually left the Indian without protection. . . . I can count up more than a dozen murders which have taken place in the Chippewa County within two years. . . . There is no law to protect the innocent or punish the guilty. The sale of whiskey, the open licentiousness, the neglect and want are fast dooming this people to death, and as sure as there is a God much of the guilt lies at the Nation's door.
The first question is, can these red men become civilized? I say, unhesitatingly, yes. The Indian is almost the only heathen man on earth who is not an idolater. In his wild state he is braver, more honest, and virtuous than most heathen races. He has warm home affections and strong love of kindred and country. The Government of England has, among Indians speaking the same language with our own, some marked instances of their capability of civilization. In Canada you will find there are hundreds of civilized and Christian Indians, while on this side of the line there is only degradation.
The first thing needed is honesty. There has been a marked deterioration in Indian affairs since the office has become one of mere political favoritism. Instructions are not worth the price of the ink with which they are written if they are to be carried out by corrupt agents. Every employee ought to be a man of purity, temperance, industry, and unquestioned integrity. Those selected to teach in any department must be men of peculiar fitnesss, --- patient, with quick perceptions, enlarged ideas, and men who love their work. They must be something better than so many drudges fed at the public crib.
The second step is to frame instructions so that the Indian shall be the ward of the Government. They cannot live without law. We have broken up, in part, their tribal relations, and they must have something in their place.
Whenever the Indian desires to abandon his wild life, the Government ought to aid him in building a house, in opening his farm, in providing utensils and implements of labor. His home should be conveyed to him by a patent, and be inalienable. It is a bitter cause of complaint that the Government has not fulfilled its pledges in this respect. It robs the Indian of manhood and leaves him subject to the tyranny of wild Indians, who destroy his crops, burn his fences, and appropriate the rewards of his labor.
The schools should be ample to receive all children who desire to attend. As it is, with six thousand dollars appropriated for the Lower Sioux for some seven years past, I doubt whether there is a child at the lower agency who can read who has not been taught by our missionary. Our Mission School has fifty children, and the entire cost of the mission, with three faithful teachers, every dollar of which passes through my own hands, is less than seven hundred dollars a year. I
In all future treaties it ought to be the object of the Government to pay the Indians in kind, supplying their wants at such times as they may require help. This valuable reform would only be a curse in the hands of a dishonest agent. If wisely and justly expended, the Indian would not be as he now is, ---often on the verge of starvation. . . .
It may be beyond my province to offer these suggestions; I have made them because my heart aches for this poor wronged people. The heads of the Department are too busy to visit the Indian country, and even if they did it would be to find the house swept and garnished for an official visitor. It seems to me that the surest plan to remedy these wrongs and to prevent them for the future, would be to appoint a commission of some three persons to examine the whole subject and to report to the Department a plan which should remedy the evils which have so long been a reproach to our nation. If such were appointed, it ought to be composed of men of inflexible integrity, of large heart, of clear head, of strong will, who fear God and love man. I should like to see it composed of men so high in character that they are above the reach of the political demagagues.
I have written to you freely with tll the frankness with which a Christian bishop has the right to write to the Chief Ruler of a great Christian Nation. My design his not been to complain of individuals, nor to make accusations. Bad as I believe some of the appointments to be, they are the fault of a political system. When I came to Minnesota I was startled at the degradation at my door. I give these men missions; God has blessed me, and I would count every trial I have had as a way of roses if I could save this people.
May God guide you and give you grace to order all things, so that the Government shall deal righteously with the Indian nations in its charge.
Your servant for Christ's sake,
Bishop of Minnesota.
A holy man of the wasichu but a true human being. The only part he had was wrong where he thought we should become like them, not understanding at a deeper level that all we have ever asked is to live our Lifeways which have nothing to do with becoming like anyone else.