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        Idaho | Activity 6.1: The Nez Perce Treaty of 1855

        After briefly discussing the Nez Perce tribe as a class, students answer questions based on a short reading excerpt from the Treaty of 1855 between the US government and the Nez Perce tribe.

        Lesson Summary

        After briefly discussing the Nez Perce tribe as a class, students answer questions based on a short reading excerpt from the Treaty of 1855 between the United States government and the Nez Perce tribe.

        This lesson is part Great States: Idaho | Unit 6: Settling Idaho which examines the resources, opportunities and freedoms that lured different groups to Idaho. Emphasis will be placed on how the arrival of newcomers presented challenges to those already settled in territory.


        Time Allotment

        30 minutes

        Learning Objectives


        4.SS.2.3.2: Discuss the impact of colonization on American Indian tribal lands in Idaho, such as aboriginal and/or ceded territories, and the Treaties of 1855 and 1863.

        4.SS.1.2.4: Analyze and describe the effects of westward expansion and subsequent federal policies on Idaho's American Indian tribes.

        Supplemental Standards:

        Boise District 413.19: Analyze and describe how the westward expansion impacted the American Indians in Idaho.



        1. Discuss the dilemma of American Indian lands surviving the expansion of white settlers. Touch on the differences in land ownership and ways of life, and the need to study primary sources to understand what was happening at the time. Make sure to touch on the following points:

          • As the United States expanded westward, settlers discovered that millions of acres of land were used by American Indian tribes.

          • Government officials attempted to make peace and negotiate terms with tribes about how much land settlers could claim as their own. But American Indians never had the same concept of individuals owning land as we do today.

          • Instead, American Indians saw the land as a communal space that benefitted and could be used by all. Before settlers arrived, the Nez Perce tribes resided in the Pacific Northwest, spanning across land in the states of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana.

        2. Bring up the Treaty of 1855’s text on the projector. Discuss the following points:

          • In 1855, the Nez Perce Treaty of 1855 was signed by the US government and Nez Perce tribes, which designated 7.5 million acres of land as a reservation for the Nez Perce people, while relinquishing control of the rest of the land off of which the Nez Perce used to live.

          • Make sure to look specifically at the first sentence of Article 1 and discuss the definitions of “cede, relinquish, and convey”

            • cede – (verb) give up (power or territory)
            • relinquish – (verb) renounce or surrender (a possession, land, etc)
            • convey – (verb) transfer or deliver (property) to another especially by sealed writing
        3. Distribute the The Nez Perce Treaty of 1855 handout to the students, which includes an excerpt the treaty as well as questions to answer.

        4. Have the students break out into groups. For 15 minutes, have them read the excerpts quietly to themselves, and answer the questions together.

        5. Reconvene to discuss the answers.

        Answer Key

        1. The United States agreed to provide the Nez Perce reservation with schools, technical workshops, a hospital and the necessary tools for education. This included: two schools, a superintendent, two teachers, furniture, books, stationary, two blacksmith shops, one saw-mill, one flouring-mill, two millers, a hospital, medicines, and a physician.

        2. The United States promised to keep the buildings repaired and the employees in service for twenty years.

        3. The United States wanted the rest of the Nez Perce’s tribal lands. In return for the Nez Perce relinquishing control of that land, the US government was willing to provide these services to the tribe on their newly designated reservation.

        Extend the Lesson (5 minutes):

        Touch on how the terms of this treaty were not met and eventually led to a battle between the American Indian and the US governments. Gold was discovered on the land and a new treaty, giving the Nez Perce tribe much less land, was written up in 1863.


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