Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2010


Great Plains Quarterly 30:3 (Spring 2010).


Copyright © 2010 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska.


What appears to be another book exploring the broken treaty relationships of the United States and Canadian federal governments turns out to be nothing of the sort. In challenging the long-honored "broken treaties tradition," Jill St. Germain has written a groundbreaking and welcome revision of the history of treaty and reservation-making on both sides of the United States-Canadian border.

Using a fresh, comparative approach to the analysis of federal records and the manuscript collections of federal Indian agents and officials, St. Germain focuses on the implementation of the Treaty of 1868 between the United States and the Lakota Sioux, and Treaty Six between Canada and the Plains Cree. Signed only eight years apart and emerging from the Plains West, both treaties stand as "exemplars of the broken treaties tradition." In the United States the broken treaties philosophy "proved a useful tool in the advancement of an Indian reform agenda" that emphasized policies made in Washington over bilateral treaty relations. This approach-in practice, in Congress, and in the subsequent historical record-accentuated the role of policymakers and Indian agents and de-emphasized tribal agency and treaty rights. "The underlying premise of the broken treaties tradition," St. Germain asserts, was "that such agreements were in effect meaningless given the unrepentant u.s. habit of breaking them." In Canada, an "inverted broken treaties" tradition evolved in which noncompliant tribal groups were viewed as aberrations and malcontents within a treaty system consistently upheld by the government.