Member of an American Indian people who lived along the Menominee River between Wisconsin and Michigan. Their language belongs to the Algonquian family. They were primarily hunter-gatherers, using birch-bark canoes to fish sturgeon, and gathering wild rice, their staple food; they moved between summer riverside settlements and winter deer-hunting grounds. Involvement with the French fur trade dramatically altered Menominee society by 1700; their territory expanded and villages and clans divided into individual roving bands of trappers. The Menominee remain in Wisconsin on a 110,000 ha/275,000 acre reservation, one of the few American Indian peoples still living on part of their ancestral lands. They number about 7,900 (2000).
The Menominee adopted some agriculture as they moved south, cultivating small gardens of maize, squash, beans, and tobacco, but it never became an important part of their subsistence. Their society was divided into several clans, which were grouped into two major tribal divisions, or moieties. Men and women wore buckskin clothing and wore their hair long and loose. Their religion was centred on the Midewiwin, or ‘Grand Medicine Society’, a secret society that communicated with the spirit world to enhance the health of its members. Men and women could join. Medicine bundles of sacred objects, dream revelations, and guardian spirits were important elements of their spiritual beliefs. Most of their traditional culture has disappeared, although many still speak the Menominee language. The majority are Roman Catholic, but many are followers of the Native American Church, which takes the hallucinogenic peyote cactus, used in traditional sacred medical ritual, as a sacrament.
The Menominee's first European contact was in 1634 with the French missionary Jean Nicolet. They quickly became involved in the fur trade and by 1700 it dominated their economy. From the 1650s-60s they were inundated by Eastern Woodlands peoples fleeing the Iroquois League during the Beaver Wars, and conflicts soon erupted. War and epidemics reduced the Menominee population by more than 75%between the 1630s and 1660s. In 1728 they aided the French against the Fox, after which their numbers began to recover. They remained allied to the French until 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War. In the War of 1812 they supported the British against the USA.
In 1817 the Menominee began to sell their lands to the USA in a series of treaties. In 1832 they sold about 1.2 million ha/3 million acres of what would become some of Wisconsin's most valuable agricultural land to the USA for US$285,667. A further 1.1 million ha/2.8 million acres was sold in 1836 (for US$700,000) and in a treaty of 1848 they ceded all their remaining land for 240 ha/600 acres in Minnesota, which they then rejected. On 12 May 1854 they accepted a permanent 110,000 ha/250,000 acre reservation on the Wolf River, Wisconsin.
Attempts at agriculture were unsuccessful and instead the tribe began operating a lumber mill under the supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1872. It was an immediate success and provided the Menominee with both jobs and an income. Funds were used to pay for health and education services and utilities, and to build up a trust fund. By 1905, the Menominee trust fund contained more than US$2 million, making them one of the most prosperous American Indian peoples. In 1908 the BIA took over the management of the forest but mismanaged it and in 1934 the Menominee sued the BIA, settling in 1951 for US$8.5 million.
On 17 June 1954, legislation provided for the termination of the federal jurisdiction over the Menominee reservation, which took effect on 30 April 1961, and the area became a county of the state of Wisconsin. Termination wiped out the tribe's treasury, closed the hospital and clinic because they failed to meet state standards, and pushed the lumber mill to the verge of insolvency. The termination plan also created a new corporation, Menominee Enterprises, Inc. (MEI), which held all the former reservation land and tribal assets. It soon passed out of Menominee hands, however, and Menominee land was subdivided and sold piecemeal to vacationers in a land development scheme.
In 1970, a group of Menominee formed an organization called Determination of Rights and Unity of Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS), which managed to have termination rescinded on 22 December 1973. The Menominee reservation was re-established and a constitution providing a considerable degree of tribal self-determination was written. A new clinic opened in October 1977, the sawmill was refurbished, and most of the land that had been sold was bought back.
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