Lesson 7 – Dakota Protest

Lesson 7 – Dakota Protest

On December 6, 1851, twenty-one chiefs and braves of the upper bands of Dakota met in council with their agent at Fort Snelling.  The subject of their council was the Traders’ Paper, an agreement signed at the same time as the Treaty of the Traverse des Sioux, in which the Dakota agreed to pay off all debts directly to the traders.  However, the Dakota asserted that their signatures on the Traders’ Paper were obtained through fraud and deceit and that the document was never properly explained to them.  The Dakota stated that they intended to pay their debts, but not until after a proper investigation of the accounts.

Traders’ Paper, signed July 23, 1851, immediately following the Treaty of the Traverse des Sioux

The Dakota spokesperson at that time, Madison Sweetser, put the objections of the Dakota in the form of a written protest.  The protest, which argued against paying out their money in bulk to the individuals named, was then signed by all Dakota at the council and by those witnesses present.  In addition to the protest, Madison Sweetser included a formal letter in which he appealed to the President to “prevent the payment of so large a sum to those named in the contract,” which he called a “stupendous fraud” attempted against the Dakota people.  Sweetser forwarded the letter and the protest to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on December 15, 1851.

The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was debated in Congress for several months during the spring of 1852.  While the Dakota protest was placed before the Senate, it seemed to have received not the least attention at that time.  The treaty was ratified on June 23, 1852, but no amendments relating to the protest were adopted.  Ultimately, the protest was unsuccessful and the treaty monies were paid to the traders as stipulated in the Traders’ Paper.

Excerpt from Ceding Contempt

“We, the undersigned, chiefs, headmen, and braves of the Sisseton, Wahpeton, Mdewakanton, and Wahpekute bands of the Dakota nation,” began the interpreter in a slow and deliberate manner.  “Being a majority of said chiefs, headmen, and braves, and as such fully competent to transact national business.”

Mr. Campbell, the interpreter, went on like this, slowly reading the political language of the document.  Essentially, the Dakota protest was an acknowledgement that the Indians had signed an obligation to pay their traders, but that they had not intended to sign such an obligation.  The Dakota, through their protest, argued that their signatures were obtained through fraud and deceit.  In other words, they were tricked.  The protest, which was directed toward the President of the United States, went on to ensure that the Dakota wished to pay their debts, but to do so in their own time and in their own manner.  They ended their protest by appealing to the good nature of the President for his timely aid and protection.  The entire document seemed to me a suitable request that the United States Government would be hard pressed to deny.

Read the Dakota Protest (page 31-33)

See this post on YouTube. 


William Watts Folwell, A History of Minnesota, Vol. 1, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1922).

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