Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

What It Took to Broker a Treaty Between the Young United States and Native Nations

In 1775, as war clouds gathered on the horizon, the Continental Congress was eager to make peace with the Six Nations. More specifically, the American rebels did not want the English to seduce the Six Nations into fighting on their behalf, so the Americans developed a treaty strategy that would use older political protocols employed by the British to swing Native support toward the Twelve United Colonies. As expressed in the speech above, the strategy depended on an emotional appeal for peace, but it also included pragmatic steps to ensure that the Americans would better address the needs of the Six Nations than the British had.

The carefully worded speech in August 1775, which had been prepared months in advance, contained metaphorical phrases that had been a part of treaty making with Native Nations for several generations. The Tree of Peace, with its long branches sheltering those who seek peace, was an ancient symbol of the Six Nations. The Haudenosaunee perceived a treaty as the mutual planting of this tree, the burying of war weapons underneath it, and the provision of goods and services to treaty allies.

It sounds like a simple matter to make a peace treaty. Say the right words, give the right wampum belts, placate the chiefs, bestow gifts upon them, and walk away with a peace treaty. No treaty, however, was that simple. A treaty is not solely words of agreement on parchment but rather an ongoing relationship in which both parties continue to have their concerns openly discussed and considered. The excerpt from the commissioners' speech also informs us about how the colonial governments expressed respect for the intellects and cultures of the Native leaders they courted:


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