Hundreds of American Indian Treaties Digitized for the First Time
The National Archives has scanned more than 300 agreements between the United States and Indigenous tribes, writes Smithsonian Magazine. The documents are of paramount importance today, as tribes and activists point to them as binding agreements in legal battles for land, water and other resources. Thanks to a newly completed digitization effort by the U.S. National Archives and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe, researchers and the public now have unprecedented access to hundreds of these critical agreements.
The online collection features 374 ratified Indian treaties from the archives’ holdings. According to a blog post, these documents are housed in a specially protected area of the National Archives building and are unavailable for use in the Central Research Room due to their fragility and significance. More than 50 of the treaties are written on large sheets of parchment; several contain drawings, maps and wampum, or decorative beads used as currency in some Native American tribes.
Those hoping to delve into the trove can use Indigenous Digital Archive (IDA) Treaties Explorer, a free tool optimized for easily searching and studying the documents. In addition to providing a framework for research, the portal offers maps of different treaty land designations, as well as extensive historical and contextual information.
In addition to debuting the new resource, MIAC recently hosted a series of Facebook workshops on treaty law. Led by Sherri Thomas, assistant director of the University of New Mexico Law Library, the recorded sessions are now available to view online.
Tribes Struggle to Receive COVID-19 Data
As American Indian and other communities of color bear the brunt of COVID-19, tribal epidemiologists across the U.S. are struggling to access potentially life-saving information: several of the 12 tribal epidemiology centers have reported poor responses to their requests for data. These centers can fight the virus with public health messaging, contact tracing, and population surveillance in Native communities, but without data they’re unsure where to focus their efforts.
Without the data, the virus can spread not only within tribes, but throughout the general public as well. Tribal advocates say data withholding may violate tribes’ sovereignty and treaty rights; some leaders are prepared to take legislative and legal action to get the information they need.
Gathering data is difficult partly because American Indians and Alaska Natives receive care from a mix of federal, tribal, and private facilities, many of which don’t share Native patients’ results with tribal epidemiology centers, or don’t even identify Native patients at all. Federal Indian Health Service clinics don’t report directly to tribal epidemiology centers but to the national Indian Health Service system, where cases are often missed or inputted incorrectly.
If a Native patient is seen at a private facility, their result may never reach tribal epidemiologists at all. Since such facilities are unlikely to be aware of, let alone report to, their regional tribal epidemiology center, their results often only end up in the hands of states and the CDC — which aren’t sharing critical information with tribal centers. Data is crucial to this work. It is used to locate disease hot spots, track the spread of infections, and understand which health interventions are successful in specific communities.
Tribal epidemiology centers were founded in 1996 to help Native communities measure the success of local health programs and track progress in meeting disease reduction goals set by Congress. Tribal epidemiology centers function like other public health departments: They help tribes in their regions collect and analyze statistics on everything from COVID-19 and diabetes, to flu shots and dental care. The significance of tribal epidemiology centers’ in the health of Native communities was recognized in 2010, when the Affordable Care Act designated tribal epidemiology centers as “public health authorities” for the first time.