Before Europeans came to North America, Native people governed themselves and maintained diplomatic relations with one another. They were members of independent, or sovereign, nations that negotiated government-to-government agreements—like treaties—with one another over trade, hunting, and other issues of mutual concern.
Tribes practiced diplomacy with one another to settle conflicts or permit entry into their homelands. Diplomatic relations were accompanied by strict protocols and thorough negotiations. In songs, dances, feasts, and speeches, past wrongs were set aside and hopes for future goodwill were expressed. Only then would discussions begin. Agreements were sometimes sanctified by ceremonies that created family connections.
An Ojibwe chief from Sandy Lake, Waemboeshkaa attended the Fond du Lac Treaty negotiations of 1826 where he impressed Americans with his regal bearing. Holding a pipe decorated with horse hair, Waemboeshkaa was described by Thomas L. McKenney, the first U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, as wearing a “kingly crown”—an “appendage of royalty” that, for McKenney, recalled depictions of “King Saul.”