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Treaty Making


In his book, The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America, Richard Kluger argues that the treaty-making process was never intended to be fair.


“There is no evidence to suggest that the contents of the first treaty were shared with the chiefs or any members of the affected tribes in advance of the [treaty-signing] event. On the contrary, there is evidence that [Governor Isaac] Stevens felt his task would prove easier if the tribes were given neither the time nor the means to fully grasp what was being asked of—and done to—them…That Stevens supposed a thorough understanding on the tribes’ part would be counterproductive to his mission may be inferred from his order that the council sessions be conducted not in the natives’ own Salish language[s] but in the far more rudimentary Chinook Jargon…Chinook was a crude language with an elementary vocabulary of 300 to 500 words—the Salish tongues offered a word selection ten times larger—and was thus incapable of expressing nuances or the abstract social concepts embedded in a document crafted by a Harvard-trained lawyer like [George] Gibbs.”

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