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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Rare Books Collection: Native American Law

The Law Library and Riesenfeld Center holds an excellent collection of law related to Native Americans, recording a difficult, complex, and very important legal, political, and to some extent social history. Among other material, the collection contains a wide selection of treaties from the nineteenth century. Included in these are an 1829 treaty between the United States and the Ojibwe, Menomonie, and Winnebago, and an 1863 treaty concluded with the Nez Perce, the last treaty agreed between an American Indian tribe and the federal government. There are also extensive printed communications between various tribes and the U.S. government regarding land and rights, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century laws and constitutions of diverse Native American nations. Association reports, investigations, hearings, and other descriptions of legal relations round out the material. Below are two items in particular that are special treasures for their outstanding historical significance.
[Laws of the Cherokee Nation: Adopted by the Council at Various Times (1839–1851)]. [Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation: Damaga Publisher, 1852].

This extremely rare collection of laws, pictured at left, was published at Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation’s capital. The laws are printed in the Cherokee language, using a syllabary adopted by the Nation in 1825. Joseph Blackbird and Hercules Martin compiled the laws in Cherokee. The printers were John Candy and Mark Tyger. As in some family Bibles, a handwritten list of one generation of the Fodder family appears here. One family member, Sequoyah, was likely named after the founder of the Cherokee writing system. The book’s significance extends to aspects of familial, linguistic, and tribal identity.
Constitution of the State of Sequoyah
. Muskogee, Indian Territory: Phoenix Printing Co., 1905.

In 1890, Congress created Oklahoma Territory from the western part of Indian Territory. In the same period, the federal Dawes Act (1887) and Curtis Act (1898) aimed to end communal tribal landholding and jurisdiction. In response, the Five Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole) and others attempted to create a new American state, named Sequoyah after the founder of the Cherokee writing system, to retain control of their Oklahoma lands. A constitution was drafted in 1905, with a Bill of Rights that reflected provisions of the federal Bill of Rights. The proposal was not considered by Congress but the document provided a foundation for Oklahoma’s constitution. This sole edition of Sequoyah’s constitution includes a vivid map of its territory and counties.
   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

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