The Center for Legislative Archives, a unit within the National Archives, holds Records Relating to Treaties with Indians, 1789-1871 as part of Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate.

Individual American Indian nations were originally treated as independent sovereign entities by the United States and thus negotiated treaties were subject to Senate approval, the same as treaties with foreign governments. Supreme Court decisions in 1831 and 1832 changed the status of American Indian nations from "foreign states" to "domestic dependent nations." However even after that decision, treaties between the United States and American Indian nations were still subject to Senate approval.

That changed in 1871 with the Indian Appropriation Act. The Act ended formal treaty making with American Indian nations and the Senate's role in ratifying those treaties. After 1871, treaties were made through Acts of Congress, Executive Orders, and Executive Agreements.

Map of Nebraska and Kansas Territories, showing the location of the Indian Reserves according to the treaties of 1854The first ratified American Indian treaty was with the Delaware in 1788, and the last was with the Nez Perce in 1868. From 1789 to 1871, approximately 370 treaties were made and approved by the Senate, while several dozen treaties were considered but not approved. Those not approved are "unratified."

Senate records in RG 46 relating to treaties with American Indian nations contain similar content to that of the foreign treaty series for the same period. Records will usually have the original presidential message transmitting the treaty, and letters from officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) -- the agency responsible for negotiating treaties -- along with letters from American Indian nations and other interested parties, and, occasionally, maps. These records are arranged by Congress and thereunder chronologically by date of treaty submission to the Senate.

While treaty files are not typically found in the committee records of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, there may be related documentation. The Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives has a useful overview of these committee records in Chapter 12, while the National Archives Catalog will have a more detailed description of the relevant file units. The Senate Guide also has a short section on Records Relating to Treaties with Indian Tribes in Chapter 21.

Much of the documentation found in the Senate American Indian Treaty records is duplicated in other records held by the National Archives. Researchers may wish to start elsewhere before consulting Senate records. Ratified treaties are in Record Group 11, General Records of the United States Government, which are held by the National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RDT1) unit. These records have been digitized and are available online through the National Archives Catalog.

Cherokee Petition in Protest of the New Echota TreatyThe same Textual Reference (RDT1) unit holds related records in RG 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A search of the National Archives Catalog shows records related to ratified and unratified treaties from RG 75. For more information on treaty records in RG 11 or RG 75, please email

The text of ratified American Indian treaties can be found in Charles J. Kappler's Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, a seven volume compilation of U.S. treaties, laws, and executive orders pertaining to American Indian tribes. The volumes are available online though the digitization efforts of Oklahoma State University. The university has also developed a Tribal Treaties Database that's currently in public beta.

The text of presidential messages transmitting treaties, along with some related documentation, is available in the Congressional Serial Set. The Serial Set includes both published reports from congressional committees and documents ordered printed by the House or the Senate. It is available in print at designated Federal Depository Libraries, and online through subscription services like ProQuest Congressional or HeinOnline (which may be available through local academic libraries), or freely available through the HathiTrust Digital Library.

The National Archives website also has a portal on American Indian Treaties with information on how to find treaties and related records, like instructions issued to treaty commissioners and minutes of treaty councils.

If you have any questions about Records Relating to Treaties with Indian Tribes within the records of the U.S. Senate, please email the Center for Legislative Archives at We're happy to help!


1. Map of Nebraska and Kansas Territories, showing the location of the Indian Reserves according to the treaties of 1854 (NAID: 306436)

2. Cherokee Petition in Protest of the New Echota Treaty (NAID: 2127291)