Exploring Sovereignty

The treaty that established the Warm Springs Indian Reservation returns to Oregon in a new exhibit.

What is the legacy of a treaty? Often studied in history books and discussed as markers of the past, treaties have bearings on present-day life that may go unnoticed even in the immediate communities they affect. The Museum at Warm Springs, which is chartered by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is working to make the lived experience of one treaty clearer to its Central Oregon community by bringing the original document from the National Archives to the museum as part of the exhibit Memory of the Land: Treaty of the Middle Columbia River Tribes and Bands. 

Using the treaty as a keystone, the exhibit—supported in part by a Public Program Grant from Oregon Humanities—aims to increase awareness of tribal sovereignty and its historical and continuing impact on issues in Central Oregon. The Treaty with the Tribes of Middle Oregon of 1855 defined the boundaries of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and affirmed the sovereignty of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. It also upheld the right of its people to hunt, fish, and gather on the nearly ten million acres of land the tribes and bands of the mid-Columbia ceded to the United States government. 

Warm Springs Chief Delvis Heath Sr. says of the treaty, “This is our documentation of who we are and shows our presence here from the beginning of time. We use the materials without harm to the land. Our history is in these things. Our ancestors are represented there.” Through its reservation of land, its reinforcement of tribal sovereignty, and its retention of hunting and fishing rights for tribal members in the vacated region, the treaty’s effects continue to be felt to this day, both intellectually and emotionally. “The treaty is a driving force,” says Carol Leone, executive director of the museum. “It has made it possible for artists to continue to hang on to their heritage and express it in both contemporary and traditional means.”

The treaty exhibition is paired with related programming from the museum, including a cultural workshops series and a three-day Treaty Symposium in October featuring historians, culture bearers, and legal experts. These efforts seek to engage the Warm Springs population, especially young tribal members, as well as the broader Central Oregon community in an understanding of the importance of tribal sovereignty through shared lived experiences. Memory of the Land is on exhibit now through November 3, 2018.

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