June 17 - It Was Called the Steal Treaty...

Posted on June 17, 2020

On this date in 1960, the Nez Perce tribe was awarded $4 million for land that had been "bought" from them - really, stolen from them! - for just 4 cents per acre, way back in 1863.

The seven million acres (about 28 thousand square kilometers) was very much undervalued by the treaty, even for 1863 prices. The land was in Eastern Washington and Oregon and a central chunk of Idaho. The compensation for the land was so unfair, the nickname for the treaty became "the steal treaty."

By the way, the reason for the land grab was that gold was discovered within the boundaries of the land that had been given to the Nez Perce by the Treaty of 1855! The U.S. government, instead of sticking to its promise to the tribe, enforcing reservation boundaries by keeping gold-seekers out, and allowing the Nez Perce to profit from the resources on their own land - yeah, instead of all of that, the U.S. just grabbed about 90% of the reservation!

You probably know that European settlers in the "New World," and their descendants, treated the native peoples who lived in North America really dreadfully. Obviously, not every interaction between European-American and Native American was awful, but as a whole, the British colonies and the United States has a terrible human-rights record. Stealing land; making and then breaking treaties; devaluing native cultures, languages, and religions; kidnapping and murder, war and massacres - yikes, what a lot of horrific stuff!

Chief Joseph is one of the most famous of the Nez Perce.

In modern times, a few steps have been taken to right a fraction of the wrongs, and one of these steps was this 1960 payment. Today the Nez Perce own and operate two casinos in Idaho, and many people in this tribe are involved with the hatching, harvesting, and selling salmon.

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