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|Regions with significant populations|
|United States ( Wisconsin)|
|Catholic, Big Drum, Native American Church|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Kickapoo|
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States ( Wisconsin)|
|Catholic, Big Drum, Native American Church|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Kickapoo|
The Menominee (also spelled Menomini in early scholarly literature; known as Mamaceqtaw, "the people," in their own language) are a nation of Native Americans living in Wisconsin. The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin is federally recognized and has a 353.894 sq mi (916.581 km²) reservation in the state. Their historic territory originally included 10 million acres in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of present-day Michigan. The tribe has 8700 members.
The tribe was terminated in the 1950s under federal policy of the time. During that period, they brought what has become a landmark case in Indian law to the United States Supreme Court, in Menominee Tribe v. United States (1968), after the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the United States Court of Claims drew opposing conclusions about the effect of the termination on Menominee hunting and fishing rights on their former reservation land. The Supreme Court determined that the tribe had not lost traditional hunting and fishing rights as a result of termination, as Congress had not clearly ended these in its legislation.
The tribe regained federal recognition in 1973 in an act of Congress, and re-established its reservation in 1975. They operate under a written constitution, and their first government under it took over from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1979.
The Menominee are part of the Algonquian-language family of North America, of which several tribes were located around the Great Lakes. They were one of the historical tribes of present-day upper Michigan and Wisconsin, and had a territory of 10 million acres. They are believed to have been well-settled in that territory for more than 1,000 years; by some accounts, they are descended from the Old Copper Culture people and other indigenous peoples who have been in this area for 10,000 years.
They are the only present-day tribe in Wisconsin whose origin story tells that they have always been here. Their reservation is located 60 miles west of the site of their Creation, according to their tradition: it is the site where the Menominee River enters Green Bay of Lake Michigan, at the present-day city of Marinette, Wisconsin. Their name for themselves is Mamaceqtaw, meaning "the people."
The name "Menominee" is not their autonym. It was adopted by the Europeans from the Ojibwe, whom they encountered first and who told them of the other people. The Ojibwe name for the tribe was manoominii, meaning "wild rice people", as wild rice was one of their most important food staples.
The Menominee were a peaceful, friendly and welcoming nation who had the reputation for getting along with other tribes. When the Oneota people, ancestors of several historical tribes throughout the Midwest, migrated into present-day Wisconsin between A.D.800 and A.D.900, the indigenous Menominee shared the forests and waters, and developed and maintained a friendship with them that exists to this day.
The historical Menominee were encountered by European explorers in Wisconsin in the mid-17th century during the colonial era, and had extended interaction with them during later periods in North America. They lived in numerous villages which the French visited for fur trading. The anthropologist James Mooney in 1928 estimated that the tribe's number in 1650 was 3,000 persons.
Their customs are quite similar to those of the Chippewa (Ojibwa), another Algonquian people. Their language has a closer affinity to those of the Fox and Kickapoo tribes. All four are Anishinaabe languages, part of the Algonquian family.
They are an Eastern Woodlands tribe. The early French explorers and traders referred to them as "folles avoines" (wild oats), referring to the wild rice which they cultivated and gathered as one of their staple foods. The Menominee formerly subsisted on a wide variety of plants and animals, with wild rice and sturgeon being two of the most important; feasts are still held annually at which each of these is served.
The five principal Menominee clans are the Bear, the Eagle, the Wolf, the Crane, and the Moose. Each has had traditional responsibilities within the tribe. With a patrilineal kinship system, the Menominee believed that children derived their social status from their fathers, and were born "into" their father's clan. Choices of marriage were related to the tribes, as people had to marry outside their clan. The ethnologist James Mooney wrote an article on the Menominee for the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), reporting their descent and inheritance was through the female line, as a matrilineal kinship system, which is common to many Native American peoples.
Menominee mythology is rich with ethical meaning. It has many elements in common with the sacred literature and cultures of other Native American peoples.
The Menominee believed that the earth was separating the upper and lower worlds. The upper world represented good and the lower world represented evil. These two worlds were divided into several layers, the furthest being the most powerful. The sun was at the highest level in the upper world, followed by the Thunderbird and the Morning Star; the Golden Eagles (symbols of war); and other birds were led by the Bald Eagle. The first level below the earth in the lower world was occupied by the Horned Serpent. The next level was the home of the White Deer, which contributed to the origins of the Medicine Dance. The next level was the Underwater Panther. The lowest level was ruled by the Great White Bear.
The Menominee used dreaming as a way of connecting with a guardian spirit in order to gain power. During the rite of passage at puberty, both boys and girls would fast for days, living in a small isolated wigwam. The youths met individually with medicine men for interpretation of their dreams of spirits in animal form. The medicine man would inform the youngster what responsibilities he or she owed to the guardian spirit.
Hundreds of years later in 1634, the Menominee and Winnebago (along with a band of Potawatomi who had recently moved into Wisconsin) witnessed the French explorer Jean Nicolet's approach and landing at what is now Red Banks, near the present-day city of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Nicolet, looking for a Northwest Passage to China, hoped to find and impress the Chinese. As the canoe approached the shore, Nicolet put on a silk Chinese ceremonial robe, stood up in the middle of the canoe and shot off two pistols.
For at least forty years in the 20th century, this event was presented to elementary students studying Wisconsin history as the native people fearing the light-skinned man who could make thunder, a traditional view of European Americans. More likely the native people feared for the light-skinned man, as he had demonstrated questionable mental faculties. Anyone with local knowledge would know better than to stand up in a canoe on the choppy waters of the bay of Green Bay!
Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix (1682-1761), a French Catholic clergyman, professor, historian, author and explorer kept a detailed journal of his travels from France to Wisconsin and Louisiana. In 1721 he came upon the Menominee whom he referred to as Malhomines ("peuples d'avoines" or (Wild Oat Indians). "After we had advanced five or six leagues, we found ourselves abreast of a little island, which lies near the western side of the bay, and which concealed from our view, the mouth of a river, on which stands the village of the Malhomines Indians, called by our French "peuples d'avoines" or Wild Oat Indians, probably from their living chiefly on this sort of grain. The whole nation consists only of this village, and that too not very numerous. 'Tis really great pity, they being the finest and handsomest men in all Canada. They are even of a larger stature than the Potawatomi. I have been assured that they had the same original and nearly the same languages with the Noquets, and the Indians at the Falls." 
The tribe traditionally lived in a large territory of 10 million acres extending from Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Historic references include one by Father Frederic Baraga, a missionary priest in Michigan, who in his 1878 dictionary wrote:
"Mishinimakinago; pl.-g.—This name is given to some strange Indians (according to the sayings of the Otchipwes [Ojibwe]), who are rowing through the woods, and who are sometimes heard shooting, but never seen. And from this word, the name of the village of Mackinac, or Michillimackinac, is derived."
Maehkaenah is the Menominee word for turtle. In his The Indian Tribes of North America (1952), John Reed Swanton recorded under the "Wisconsin" section: "Menominee," a band named "Misi'nimäk Kimiko Wini'niwuk, 'Michilimackinac People,' near the old fort at Mackinac, Mich." Michillimackinac is also spelled as Mishinimakinago, Mǐshǐma‛kǐnung, Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go, Missilimakinak, Teiodondoraghie.
The Menominee were descendants of the Late Woodland Indians who had inhabited the lands once occupied by Hopewell Indians, the earliest human inhabitants of the Lake Michigan region. As the Hopewell cultured declined A.D. 800, the Lake Michigan region eventually became home to Late Woodland Indians. Early fur traders, coureur-de-bois and explorers from France encountered their descendants: the Menominee, Chippewa, Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, Miami, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. It is believed that the French explorer Jean Nicolet was the first non-Native American to reach Lake Michigan in 1634 or 1638.
Initially neutral during the War of 1812, the Menominee later became allied with the British and Canadians, whom they helped defeat the invading Americans at the Battle of Mackinac Island. During the ensuing decades, the Menominee were pressured by encroachment of new European-American settlers in the area. Settlers first arrived in Michigan, where lumbering on the Upper Peninsula and resource extraction attracted workers. By mid-century, encroachment by new settlers was increasing. In the 1820s, the Menominee were approached by representatives of the Christianized Stockbridge-Munsee Indians from New York to share or cede some of their land for their use.
The Menominee gradually sold much of their lands in Michigan and Wisconsin to the U.S. government through seven treaties from 1821 to 1848, first ceding their lands in Michigan. Although the US government wanted to move them further west as Wisconsin was organizing for statehood, their Chief Oshkosh went to look at the proposed site on the Crow River and rejected the offered land, saying their current land was better for hunting and game. The Menominee retained lands near the Wolf River in what became the their present reservation. They are the only one of the Native American tribes now residing in Wisconsin who originated in the area and are living in their traditional homelands.
The reservation was created in a treaty with the United States signed on May 12, 1854 in which the Menominee relinquished all claims to the lands held by them under previous treaties, and were assigned 432 square miles (1,120 km2) on the Wolf River in present-day Wisconsin. An additional treaty which they signed on February 11, 1856 carved out the southwestern corner of this area to create a separate reservation for the Stockbridge and Lenape (Munsee) tribes, who had reached the area as refugees from New York state. The latter two tribes have the joint Stockbridge-Munsee Community.
The Menominee Indian Reservation is located in northeastern Wisconsin. For the most part, it is conterminous with Menominee County and the town of Menominee, which were established after termination of the tribe in 1961, and before the reservation was re-established in 1975.
After the tribe had received federal recognition in 1973, it essentially restored the reservation to its historic boundaries in 1975. Many small pockets of territory within the county (and its geographically equivalent town) are not considered as part of the reservation. These amount to 1.14 percent of the county's area, so the reservation is essentially 98.86 percent of the county's area. The largest of these pockets is in the western part of the community of Keshena. The reservation includes a plot of off-reservation trust land of 10.22 acres (41,400 m2) in Winnebago County to the south, west of the city of Oshkosh. The reservation's total land area is 353.894 sq mi (916.581 km²), while Menominee County's land area is 357.960 sq mi (927.111 km²).
The small non-reservation parts of the county are more densely populated than the reservation, holding 1,337 (29.3%) of the county's 4,562 total population, as opposed to the reservation's 3,225 (70.7%) population, as of the 2000 census.
The most populous communities are Legend Lake and Keshena. Since the late 20th century, the members of the reservation have operated a number of gambling facilities in these communities as a source of revenue. They speak English and their traditional Menominee, one of the Algonquian languages. Current population of the tribe is about 8700.
The Menominee had the practice of logging in a sustainable manner. In the early 20th century, the Forest Service became involved in managing their forest. Despite the desire of the tribe and Senator Robert M. LaFollette for sustainable yield policy, the Forest Service did clear-cutting for years, until 1926. It had been cutting seventy percent of the salable timber. The Department of the Interior regained control and, over the next dozen years, with the tribe reduced the cutting of salable timber to thirty percent. In 1934, the Menominee filed suit in the United States Court of Claims against the Forest Service, saying that its policy had damaged their resource. The court agreed and settled the claim finally in 1952, awarding the Menominee $8.5 million.
The Menominee were among Native Americans who participated as soldiers in World War II with other United States citizens.
During the 1940s, federal Indian policy envisioned termination of the special relationship between the United States government and those tribes considered ready for assimilation to mainstream culture. The Menominee were identified for termination, which would end its status as a sovereign nation. At the time, the Klamath in Oregon were the only other tribal group identified for termination. The Bureau of Indian Affairs believed the Menominee were sufficiently economically self-reliant on their timber industry to be successful independent of federal assistance and oversight. Before termination, they were one of the wealthiest American Indian tribes.
In 1954, Congress passed a law which phased out the Menominee reservation, effectively terminating its tribal status on April 30, 1961. Commonly held tribal property was transferred to a corporation, Menominee Enterprises, Inc. (MEI). It had a complicated structure and two trusts, one of which, First Wisconsin Trust Company, was appointed by the BIA. First Wisconsin Trust Company always voted its shares as a block, and essentially could control the management operations of MEI.
At the request of the Menominee, the state organized the former reservation as a new county, so they could maintain some coherence. The tribe was expected to provide county government functions.
The change resulted in diminished standards of living for the members of the tribe, as the tribe had to close the hospital and some schools in order to cover costs of the conversion: to provide their own services or contract for them as a county. Menominee County, Wisconsin, was the poorest and least populated Wisconsin county during this time, and termination adversely affected the region. Tribal crafts and produce alone could not sustain the community, and the tax base, lacking industry, could not fund basic services for the Menominee. MEI funds, which totaled $10 million in 1954, dwindled to $300,000 by 1964. Struggling to manage financially, the white-dominated MEI proposed in 1967 to raise money by selling off former tribal lands to non-Native Americans, which resulted in a fierce backlash among the Menominee.
It was a period of Indian activism, and community members began an organizing campaign to regain political sovereignty as the Menominee Tribe. They included Ada Deer, an organizer who would later become an advocate for Native Americans at the federal level as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs (1993–1997). In 1970 the activists formed a group called the Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Stockholders (DRUMS). They blocked the proposed sale of tribal land by MEI to non-Indian developers, and successfully gained control of the MEI board of directors. They also persuaded Congress to restore their status as a federally recognized sovereign tribe by legislation.
At the same time, President Richard Nixon encouraged a federal policy to increase self-government among Indian tribes, in addition to increasing education opportunities and religious protection. He signed the bill for federal recognition of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin on December 22, 1973. The sovereign tribe started the work of reorganizing the reservation, which they re-established in 1975. Tribal members wrote and ratified a tribal constitution in 1976, and elected a new tribal government, which took over from BIA officials in 1979.
During the period of termination, when the Menominee individually were subject to state law, in 1963 three members of the tribe were charged with violating Wisconsin's hunting and fishing laws on what had formerly been their reservation land for more than 100 years. The tribal members were acquitted. The state appealed the decision and the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the Menominee tribe no longer had hunting and fishing rights due to the termination act of Congress in 1954.
Due to the state court's ruling, the tribe sued the United States for compensation for the value of the hunting and fishing rights in the U.S. Court of Claims, in Menominee Tribe v. United States (1968). It ruled that tribal members still had hunting and fishing rights, and that Congress had not abrogated those rights. The opposite rulings by the state and federal courts brought the issue to the Supreme Court. In 1968 the Supreme Court held that the tribe retained its hunting and fishing rights under the treaties involved, and the rights were not lost after federal recognition was ended by the Menominee Termination Act, as Congress had not clearly removed those rights in its legislation. This has been a landmark case in Indian law, helping preserve Native American hunting and fishing rights.
The tribe operates according to a written constitution. It elects a tribal council and president.
The Menominee developed the College of Menominee Nation in 1993 and it was accredited in 1998. It includes a Sustainable Development Institute. Its goal is education to promote their ethic for living in balance on the land. It is one of a number of tribal colleges that have been developed since the early 1970s, and one of two in Wisconsin.
The nation has a notable forestry resource and ably manages a timber program. In an 1870 assessment of their lands, which totaled roughly 235,000 acres (950 km2), they counted 1.3 billion standing board feet of timber. Today that has increased to 1.7 billion board feet. In the intervening years, they have harvested more than 2.25 billion board feet.
Since June 5, 1987, the tribe has owned and operated a Las Vegas style casino, associated with bingo games and a hotel. The complex provides employment to numerous Native Americans; approximately 79 percent of the Menominee Casino-Bingo-Hotel's 500 employees are ethnic Native Americans or are spouses of Native Americans.