Paper That Talks Two Ways, The Treaty Signing–2010

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"Paper that talks two ways" is an Indian expression that voiced the Native American's impression that treaties always said one thing to the white man and quite another to the native people. In this painting, we see a gathering of Cheyenne and Sioux men intently listening to a man who is a regarded orator among his people. The words of the Peace Commission have been translated to him and he is expressing his distrust of those words. Artist Howard Terpning wanted the entire focus of the painting to be on the native people, so we see only the corner of a table and the shoes of one of the commissioners. The scene depicted here is not a specific treaty signing event, but it is loosely patterned after the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Terpning references The Treaty of Fort Laramie because it was one of the last great treaties to be signed between the American Government and the Plains Indians. What it proposed and how it played out were two different things.

The Fort Laramie Treaty
The treaty ended Red Cloud's War (1866-1867), established the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation and protected Sioux Hunting Grounds and the Sacred Black Hills from white encroachment. The treaty includes an article intended to "ensure the civilization" of the Lakota, financial incentives for them to farm land and become competitive and stipulations that minors should be provided with an "English education" at a "mission building." To this end, the U.S. government included in the treaty permission for white teachers, blacksmiths, a farmer, a miller, a carpenter, an engineer and a government agent to take up residence within the reservation.

In 1874, General George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills accompanied by miners who were seeking gold. Once gold was found in the Black Hills, miners were soon moving into the Sioux hunting grounds in violation of the treaty. Indians in turn assaulted these gold prospectors, who then demanded protection from the United States Army. War ensued.

In 1876, Custer, leading an army detachment, encountered the encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn River. Custer's detachment was annihilated, but the United States would continue its battle against the Sioux in the Black Hills until the government confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the U.S. government and the Sioux.