Website of Menominee: https://www.menominee-nsn.gov/
Historical Information about Menominee
The Menominee’s rich culture can be expressed through the main aspects of environment, livelihood, and tradition.
The physical environment of the historic range of the Menominee tribe consists of coniferous forests and Lake Michigan coastal landscapes. The lake effect allows for mild temperatures and moderate precipitation. Before the advent of European contact, the Menominee lived in large, permanent villages on the Menominee River, which defines the Wisconsin-Michigan border in Northeastern Wisconsin. The largest of these villages was Menekaunee, which is in present day Marinette, WI. Their language, Menominee, is an Algonquian language, and there are cultural similarities to other Algonquian tribes. Once Europeans arrived and the fur trade became prevalent in the late 1600s, the socioeconomics of the tribe shifted toward nonpermanent villages of about a few hundred people in the warm months, and even smaller camps in the winter months. By the 19th century, their range expanded to as far west as the Wisconsin River.
The Menominee livelihood was predominantly hunter-gatherer, but small gardens of beans, corn, and squash were common. Wild rice was one of their staple grains and fishing, especially for sturgeon, was prevalent. Because of the difficulty of finding and preparing food, a majority of the natives’ time and energy was devoted to subsistence. Essentially, their lives were their foremost livelihood. Five clans distinguished their tribe members: Bear, Eagle, Moose, Crane, Wolf. The purpose was to share the burden of communal responsibilities by distinguishing peoples’ roles. It is important to note that someone cannot marry into their prescribed clan because clans also distinguished certain lineage. Unlike other Algonquian tribes, a newlywed couple would move in with the husband’s family.
Other community roles included shamans and council members. Shamans were deeply respected for their spiritual and healing powers. The council was comprised of an ancestral “lineage chief,” or the eldest of the family. When the fur trade dominated the economic stage, a tribe member’s success was measured by their leadership and communication abilities – with both the Europeans and other tribes – and hunting/trapping skills. In general, the Menominee got along well with tribes and Europeans. Despite their noble reputation, many Menominee, and other tribes, suffered alien diseases.
Native American culture is rich with diverse traditions and belief systems. Like many other tribes, the Menominee had a strong spiritual connection with the natural world and a cosmology of multiple realms. Earth was sandwiched between divine upper realms and evil lower realms. Wildlife play imperative roles in their belief system: the sturgeon was referred to as “father;” the white deer helped create the medicine dance; humans were descendants of bears. Dreaming was an especially powerful tool for connecting with spirits. For instance, the Menominee coming-of-age tradition called for boys and girls to fast for days, alone in a wigwam in order to dream of spirits, especially animal spirits. The shaman would then interpret the dreams and guide the young adults toward their roles in the tribe. The tradition of respect carried into the home, with certain language formalities for addressing elders, brothers, and sisters. Art was another powerful tradition as a means of expressing respect through beauty, and beadwork, pottery, and quilling were specialties of the Menominee.
Colonial Experiences of the Menominee
The Menominee tribe first made contact with Europeans in the late 17th century when French fur traders expanded into Wisconsin, however the effects of colonization began earlier. Wisconsin became a war zone in the early 17th century as the Iroquois tribe moved west from New York in hopes of increasing their fur market. Although the Menominee never made direct contact with the Iroquois, their movement caused thousands of refugees to relocate into the Menominee lands, possibly the first land shift caused by European’s influence for the Menominee people. During this time the Menominee experienced several wars with neighboring tribes – followed by starvation, disease, and tribal unrest – as French fur trade infiltrated some tribes in the early stages of colonization.
By the time the French reached the Menominee tribe in 1667, the tribes’ numbers were estimated to just 400 people – approximately 10% their pre-war population. The connection with the French started a dramatic change for the Menominee as they began hunting for profit. For the next 100 years there were many battles between Native American tribes and the French as each side fought for resources and power. Overall, the Menominee kept to themselves and as their tribe recovered and grew in population once again, they provided an insignificant influence compared to the much larger Iroquois, Ojibwe, and Dakota. The Menominee maintained peace with most tribes in the region during the time. However, once Britain was in conflict with the French, intertribal warfare could not be prevented. The Menominee had a long period of sending numbers to war in the east, defending their lands in Wisconsin, and attacking French in frustration. Battling continued for the Menominee during the 18th century and by the turn of the century, the Menominee population had once again plummeted to about 800.
The first treaty between the Menominee tribe and American government happened in 1817, which made peace between the two parties and forgave any previous injustices. Two more treaties followed in 1822 and 1831 that ceded upwards of four million acres of Menominee land – at about eight cents per acre – for the establishment of new lands for three New York tribes who were feeling pressure from American settlers. These treaties were pressed onto the Menominee chiefs but during the time of Indian removal, tribes had little control over their lands. The Menominee sold their remaining land in two more treaties in 1836 and 1848 in which the tribe surrendered 4.2 million acres for $620,000 and a new 600,000 acre reservation on the Crow Wing River in Minnesota.
The Crow Wing River proved to be a troublesome location, as it was located between the warring Dakota and Ojibwe. The chief of the Menominee tribe, Oshkosh, and a small group of tribal leaders refused to leave their land in Wisconsin saying the 1848 Treaty of Lake Poygan was invalid due to excessive American pressure to sign. The chief’s efforts led to the 1854 treaty giving the Menominee 235,000 acres of land on the Wolf River in northeast Wisconsin – about 3% of their pre-contact controlled lands. The Menominee reservation has remained intact ever since, though they have faced several challenges along the way including disease, logging companies, residential development and economic poverty.
Contemporary Developments or Issues
The Menominee Indians were the original dwellers of Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. Their residency in these areas dates back to over ten thousand years ago. Today, less than half of the tribe’s 8,700 enrolled members live on the Menominee Indian Reservation approximately 45 miles northwest of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The reservation cannot support any more residents because of lack of employment opportunities and available housing. Also, the Tribe cannot meet the demand due to the old infrastructure built on the reservation and their inability to develop new job opportunities.
According to the Tribe’s website, Menominee County is “the one county with the greatest and most immediate need” of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Based on a study done by University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health in 2010, Menominee County ranked last in overall quality of health. Several categories in this study include: mortality rate, rate of smoking during pregnancy, obesity, teen birth rate, unemployment, number of children living in poverty, violent crime rate, and number of single parent households. Of these categories, Menominee County ranked the worst/highest out of the entire state of Wisconsin.
When the Menominee were the primary dwellers of the state of Wisconsin, over 2,000 people were fluent in Menominee. Today, after European contact and the creation of the Menominee Indian Reservation, “there are fewer than ten first language speakers and fewer than twenty fluent speakers of Menominee” according to Jennifer Gauthier’s essay regarding Menominee language revitalization.
The Menominee Tribe is attempting to revitalize their language and save it from possible extinction. Each educational facility on the reservation has a language teacher to encourage the development of Menominee language in youth. The reservation and the community sponsor cultural events to promote the language and encourage use. One group specifically, the Menominee Language Institute (MLI) is a grassroots organization that believes that the need to save the Menominee language “transcends waiting for funding before action is taken” (Gauthier). MLI is a community-based group that relies completely on volunteers and members who use innovative strategies to teach the Menominee language to “anyone who will give their time” (Gauthier).
In more recent events, the Menominee Indians proposed the idea of a casino development. They believed that a possible off-reservation casino in Kenosha would help them out of poverty – creating approximately 10,000 jobs as well. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recently denied their proposal. There have been marches on the capital where Menominee tribal members have walked the 155 miles from the reservation to Madison in protest (Lowe).
In response to Governor Walker’s refusal of a Kenosha casino, the Menominee tribe proposed a new plan to make money – the growing of marijuana. The US Department of Justice does not prohibit tribes from the growing or selling of marijuana on tribal lands; but once the substance leaves the reservation local and state jurisdictions apply (Sears).
It is apparent that the Menominee Tribe is suffering greatly. They are struggling to get out of poverty, to maintain their native tongue, and to obtain a healthy quality of life. The last line on their tribal website appears to be a cry for help to the US Government. It reads, “It is the Tribe’s sincere hope that, with the help of Congress, the Tribe can transform the Reservation and Menominee County back into a place Menominee will return to for occupational, economic, educational, housing, cultural, and other opportunities.” In their current situation, government assistance to promote economic development is absolutely crucial. If this is achieved, the Menominee Tribe will thrive.
Frechette, Richard J. “The Menominee Clans Structure.” University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point Library. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.
Gauthier, Jennifer. "Living Language | The Ways." Living Language | The Ways. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. http://theways.org/story/living-language
Lowe, Mike. "Menominee Tribe Continues March to Madison as Governor Walker Responds to "Bucks Offer"" FOX6Nowcom. 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. http://fox6now.com/2015/02/16/marching-for-a-meeting-menominee-nation-members-want-to-talk-with-gov-walker/
Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.
Milwaukee Public Museum “Menominee Culture.” Web. 8 Mar. 2015.
Sears, Ashley. "Menominee Tribe Considers Growing Marijuana to Help Boost Revenue." FOX6Nowcom. 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. http://fox6now.com/2015/02/20/menominee-tribe-considers-growing-marijuana-to-help-boost-revenue/
Sultzman, Lee. “Menominee History.” Web. 8 Mar. 2015. http://www.dickshovel.com/men.html
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape.” 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2015. http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/landscapes/index.asp?mode=detail&Landscape=7